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The Confessions of Mycroft Holmes: A Paper Chase Hardcover – March 16, 2001
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How many times have you wanted a new life? Would you exchange yours for someone else's? These are the questions faced by Damien March in the opening pages of Marcel Theroux's Confessions of Mycroft Holmes. After his uncle Patrick's death, Damien learns that he has inherited a ramshackle property on the isolated island of Ionia, off the coast of Cape Cod. Should he abandon his life in London--and his career as a BBC journalist--and head west? That he does. But once he reaches the house, he's confronted with decades' worth of collected junk, which Patrick's will explicitly prevents him from discarding.
Damien also meets a number of characters on the island, all of them part of his late uncle's life. One of these acquaintances unknowingly delivers to him an unfinished manuscript that Patrick was writing about Sherlock Holmes's brother, Mycroft. The story arouses Damien's suspicions about his uncle's black-sheep existence. Ultimately, though, it leads him to discover the truth about his own family--and himself. His sudden plunge into the hard facts brings to mind "that moment suspended between the rock and the ocean when you bunch your knees up and anticipate the cold shock of the water." And by the end of the novel, Damien is enlightened: his search has answered questions he did not even know to ask. --Elizabeth Potter
From Publishers Weekly
Although this tale of a man's investigation into the truth of his family history is written with much shrewd wit and a sensitive eye for the nuances of human failure, it delivers too little, too late. The main thread of the story is promising. Damien March, an American-born BBC journalist, inherits a house from an eccentric novelist uncle in the States. He soon scraps his job and goes to live on his uncle's dilapidated estate on an island off the coast of Cape Cod. Shortly after he moves there, numerous seemingly disconnected events occur. He meets a deaf neighbor and her two children. He is robbed. One of his uncle's eccentric ex-girlfriends comes poking about the estate. Then Damien lays his hands on a box of his uncle's manuscripts. Included in the box is the start of a whimsical mystery to be solved by Sherlock Holmes's wiser older brother, Mycroft. Not so whimsically, this mystery, with its close resemblance in plot and cast to the actual history and population of the island, suggests that Damien's uncle may have killed his deaf neighbor's brutish drunkard husband many years ago. This catalogue of a complex character's past is intriguing, and Theroux's prose is by turns lyrical and elegant, but the buildup to the discovery of the pivotal manuscript is long-drawn-out and tedious. This second novel by Theroux stands as a pleasant but unremarkable follow-up to A Stranger in the Earth, mildly frustrating, mildly entertaining and generally innocuous. (Mar.) Forecast: An East Coast author tour should draw audiences curious about Theroux as a writer in his own right, but also as a literary scion. And if media pick up on the tantalizing parallels with Theroux family history Paul Theroux, Marcel's father, also owns a house on Cape Cod the roman ? clef factor may spark sales.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
Once I realized this wasn't the case, I kept reading to see where it would lead. About half-way through the book I couldn't figure out where it was heading and thought about stopping. I'm glad I didn't because I ended up really enjoying the story.
Damien March, the main character, is an expatriate American living in London and working for the BBC. Although he's had no contact with his uncle Patrick for twenty years, he finds himself the sudden beneficiary of his uncle's estate on Ionia, a fictional island off Cape Cod, an island which resembles Martha's Vineyard of the past. The only catch is that he must not change the interior of the house, which is packed with bric-a-brac. When he decides to spend six months living in the house, he discovers several unpublished stories by his uncle, all concerning Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock Holmes's mysterious brother, who has committed a terrible crime, but for worthy reasons. The parallels Damien sees between Mycroft Holmes's relationship with Sherlock and his uncle Patrick's relationship with Damien's father lead him to investigate the crime and, ultimately, to come to a new understanding of what family means and what its enduring values may be.
It is possible that this fictional story reflects either directly or obliquely on the author's own relationship with his author-father, Paul Theroux, his author-uncle Alexander Theroux, his British TV-host-brother Louis, and the relationship of the elder Theroux brothers with each other. While these overlaps will provide tantalizing and fertile grounds for biographers, they are irrelevant to one's enjoyment of this narrative. Marcel Theroux, however, certainly seems to welcome such speculation by setting of this novel off Cape Cod, where Paul Theroux lives, and by his references to Medford, where the elder Theroux authors grew up. The accurate Cape Cod descriptions, the "Yankee spirit," and the unpretentious lives so well illustrated by the peripheral characters here add immeasurably to the realism of this delightful study of family values. A captivating novel. Mary Whipple
As he gets accustomed to island life, his deaf neighbors, and living in a house filled with random bric-a-brac, he also muses on his upbringing, his family history, and the meaning of family in general. Mostly he ponders the question of who his uncle was and why his writings grew increasingly bizarre, why he sequestered himself on the island, and why Damien's father and Uncle Patrick had an odd relationship. These internal musings are interrupted by various odd occurrences, such as the disappearances of some of Uncle Patrick's files, a later burglary, and the general oddities of life on the island. Then, about 2/3 of the way into the book, Damien discovers a manuscript of his uncle's called "The Confession of Mycroft Holmes." It's a pastiche of sorts, based on Sherlock Holmes's enigmatic elder brother. The story itself is faithfully rendered in faux-Victorian prose, and characters in it appear to parallel some on the island. Damien starts to think there's a connection between the story and his uncle's odd life, and the investigation leads to a surprising (to him, if not to the reader) discovery. The book ends rather disappointingly abruptly after this revelation, but is nonetheless extremely enjoyable. Lightly written in a musing tone, and dolloped with sly wit, Theroux's second book makes the reader anxious for more. In a time when accolades are mainly gathered by sprawlingly undisciplined tomes like The Poisonwood Bible and The Blind Assassin, Theroux's slim work proves that yes, sometimes less is more.