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Hemingway's Chair Paperback – July 16, 2013

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Editorial Reviews Review

A quiet, unassuming postman develops an unexpected obsession in this quiet, unassuming--and very English--first novel from Michael Palin of Monty Python fame. Martin Sproale is the very model of a modern Walter Mitty. An assistant postmaster in the coastal town of Threston, he lives at home with his mother and rides his bicycle to work each day. It's a pleasant but uneventful sort of life, marked only by Martin's growing fascination with the life, works, and personal style of Ernest Hemingway. "Tea-drinkers, mothers, post office administrators, would-be fiancées. Little people with little minds," Martin thinks. "When would they realise that only through confrontation with danger could life be lived to the full?" Martin has transformed his room into a kind of Hemingway shrine, complete with bullfighting poster, several first editions, the same kind of typewriter Papa used--even a vintage WWI Italian army first-aid cabinet filled with all the liquors he liked to drink.

Two things happen to shatter Martin's equilibrium. First, a new, corporate-style postal manager takes the job that by rights should have been his, promptly beginning a campaign of privatization and modernization that threatens all Martin holds dear. Second, an American woman outbids him on Hemingway memorabilia; a scholar, "not a fan," of the writer, Ruth Kohler lives in seclusion nearby while she works on a book about the women in Hemingway's life. Martin and Ruth engage in some increasingly heated role-playing as the conflict over Threston's post office comes to a slow boil. Deprived of his position, his cozy world crashing down around him, Martin finds himself acting more like the he-man writer than he ever thought possible. Palin's debut is in some ways a surprise: poignant rather than funny, skillfully paced and couched in workmanlike but hardly spectacular prose. Readers expecting Pythonesque absurdity might find themselves disappointed--but only at first; with patience, this book unfolds its more subtle pleasures with understated aplomb. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

With apologies to the late Tip O'Neill, it could be said that all humor is local. Palin is best known for his work as a member of Monty Python's Flying Circus, the comedy troupe that poked fun at quaint English customs with a subtle humor Americans enjoyed but probably did not fully understand. Palin serves up much of the same in this light but entertaining first novel about Martin Sproale, a postal worker in a small seaside town trying to save his beloved post office from the ravaging forces of modernization, technology, Thatcherite greed, and the European Union. Sproale strives to emulate his hero, Ernest Hemingway, trying to transform himself into the contumacious American writer to battle the novel's corporate villains. An American Hemingway scholar writing in England feeds his obsession and encourages him in his struggle, culminating in a very Pythonesque denouement. Hemingway is well crafted and witty, but the personalities and peculiarities in this humorous portrait of small-town English life lose some of their context on this side of the Atlantic. Ted Leventhal --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (July 16, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250036518
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250036513
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,306,781 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Palin was born in Sheffield, went to Shrewsbury School and then to Oxford where he read history, performed in many comedy shows, and started working with fellow writer and performer Terry Jones.

After Oxford, Michael and Terry went on to write for various BBC comedy shows, notably The Frost Report and The Two Ronnies. In 1967, they teamed up with Eric Idle to write and perform the children's comedy series, Do Not Adjust Your Set.

In 1969 came Monty Python's Flying Circus, which firmly established Michael's comic reputation along with his five collaborators Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle and Terry Jones. This team made forty-five Python episodes and five feature films including Monty Python and The Holy Grail, Monty Python's Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life. In 1988 the Monty Python team received the Michael Balcon Award.

Michael's other feature film acting credits include Terry Gilliam's cult feature Brazil, Jabberwocky, The Missionary, which he wrote, Time Bandits, written with Terry Gilliam, American Friends, which he also co-wrote, A Private Function, A Fish Called Wanda, which won him a BAFTA Award for best supporting actor, and Fierce Creatures.

A self-confessed dromomaniac, Michael contributed to two BBC series of Great Railway Journeys of the World, in 1980 and 1994. He also indulged his wanderlust in eight huge adventures for the BBC, Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole, Full Circle, Hemingway Adventure, Sahara, Himalaya, New Europe and Brazil which were enormously successful award-winning television series, books and audios. In 2008 he filmed Around the World in 20 Years a programme celebrating his first travel series. An updated 20th anniversary edition of the book was also published. He is the author of a number of children's stories, the play The Weekend and the novels Hemingway's Chair and The Truth. Michael has also published three volumes of diaries; 1969-1979: The Python Years, 1980-1988: Halfway to Hollywood and in the autumn of 2014, 1988-1998: Travelling to Work, which was accompanied by a theatre tour of the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

In July 2014, Michael, with his fellow Pythons, performed a ten-night sell-out show at the
02 Arena in London - Monty Python Live: One Down Five to Go. More recently, Michael starred in a three part contemporary ghost story, written by Gwyneth Hughes for the BBC called Remember Me.

Michael was made a CBE in the 2000 New Year's Honours for services to television drama & travel. In 2002 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the British Comedy Awards, in 2005 he was given a BAFTA Special Award and in 2013 Michael was awarded the BAFTA Fellowship. Between 2009 and 2012 Michael was President of the Royal Geographical Society.
He lives in North London with his wife Helen.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mark Bridgeman on March 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
I was hesitant when I first picked up this book - although I'm a fan of Palin's Ptyhon work, I wasn't sure that I was ready to read that vein of comedy in a novel. However, I needn't have worried - Palin's writing is engaging, and with "Hemingway's Chair" he has created a cast of characters that *breathe*.
I fell into this book from the start, and the imagery that Palin brings forth is fresh; the plot one that I found hard to resist, despite it being partly centred around a writer I have no interest in, or knowledge of. However, Palin's characters carry the story along honestly, and interact with each other believably.
If you enjoy witty, enjoyable fiction, especially that which carries an strong English feel to it, then you cannot and MUST not pass up this book.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Paul Sayles on January 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
Hemingway's Chair is the story of a man who is a true fan of Ernest Hemingway and how this passion percolates through his life. Martin is an assistant postmaster in a small English town. He doesn't own a car, he uses a bike. He lives with his mother. In short a man who would seem to be quite constrained in his outlook. But this passion for Hemingway is quite at odds with the man we would pass in the street or buy stamps from at the post office. It is this passion that feeds the story that Palin tells with great skill.
The writing of Michael Palin is quite at odds with the man of Monty Python skits. For me, Palin struck a chord that might be there in all of us. A desire to be in the same room with a great figure. Palin's charecter to me, doesn't want to be Hemingway, rather he would be quite happy just being in the same room with him. Seeing him, listening to him, basking in the relected glory of the man. Is this a religious zeal? I don't think so. Rather it is almost a love of the man and all he stands for.
Palin's cahrecters are all believeable. We all know the bustling new boss who wants to drag a perfectly serviceable work situation into the fast lane of the GPO. To him, this is his opportunity to excel and move up the ladder of success. No matter that there are people already in place who have long service in one office, know all the customers, thier children and their varied stories. To the boss, this is of no value; streamline, moderinize and economize are his watchwords. I don't like him. He ignores the history of the people around him and the place in which he is in the process of destroying.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 25, 1999
Format: Paperback
I think some people who read "Hemingway's Chair" were expecting a lot of silly, outrageous humor like what Michael Palin helped create in Monty Python. But that's not what this novel is, at all. It's much more serious that I expected, but it really is a great book, and the funny stuff is inserted in there with just perfect timing that made me smile for a long time afterward. This is not an action book, either (though some parts are indeed very exciting). The plot is not very complicated, but it really makes you think, and the characters are very human. The very end of the book may not be quite what the rest was, but I think it was pretty much satisfactory. This is a very sweet and well writen novel, and I very much recommend it to anyone interested in a good read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book was purchase based on what I knew of Palin from Monty Python, various movies, and most recently Full Circle on PBS. I had no idea what kind of a writer he is and I am pleased to find, a very good writer. I enjoy Palin's wit, I have an interest in Hemmingway, and I enjoy English mannerism, so this book keeps my interest. This novel actually reminds me of the cute movie Palin did with Maggie Smith about hiding the hog during WWII (name slips me). It's a fast moving novel that entertains.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dan Clarke on July 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
I have long enjoyed Michael Palin as an actor, comedian and world traveller. I was not expecting much from him as a novelist, however, thinking he would be predictably zany and lightweight.
It was a very pleasant surprise to find a book about ordinary people with secret lives -- a topic that always hooks me.
Very well written, with British characters that ring true to my experiences in England, I truly enjoyed this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Doug Warren on March 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
I bought this book because I am a huge Monty Python fan, and Michael Palin is my favorite Python. Coming into the book I was surprised because I expected it to be more, I don't know... silly. But it wasn't. Don't get me wrong, it was brilliantly funny, and I easily fell in love with it.

This was one of those rare books that I could not put down. Palin does an excellent job of character development, where you really fall in love with and get to know the characters, (even the small characters, like the old man who frequents the post office every morning).

The plot is excellent, and the reader really gets involved and rejoices with the characters' triumphs and commiserates in their misfortunes.

I can't recommend this book any higher to anyone.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By RCM VINE VOICE on July 8, 2006
Format: Paperback
Michael Palin is best known for his comic genius displayed in "Monty Python", and more recently for his travel documentaries. One might expect a novel from him to be laugh-out-loud funny, and certainly the premise for "Hemingway's Chair" seems to suggest that will be the case. But readers will be delightfully surprised to find the book is not fully comic, more poignant than funny, with vividly drawn characters in this iconic slice of small town English life.

Martin Sproale has lived his entire life in Theston, a small coastal town, and worked for the past sixteen years at the post office. Yet he has only ever really 'lived' when he is admiring his hero, Ernest Hemingway, in his bedroom shrine; for the author seems the very antithesis of Martin's shy persona and bumbling ways. He has no one to share this love with, not even Elaine, with whom he has enjoyed a safe relationship with for the past year, their future hopes pinned on his promotion to manager before the end of the year. But when the old post master retires, a drive to modernize and privatize the post office comes along and Martin finds himself pushed aside and his way of life is threatened by the impending new technological advances. His hesitancy and meek acceptance costs him much that he thought he held dear, but opens the door for Martin to discover who he really is.

"Hemingway's Chair" is a delightful, thoroughly 'English' read. Palin has created a cast of characters who are believable, and the storyline is original. The ending is a little rushed and too tidy, with some holes left open, but it is fun to watch Martin's transformation throughout the course of the novel. It also offers some interesting commentary on Hemingway and his writings (pro and con), but one doesn't have to be a fan of the man's writing to enjoy Martin's journey.
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