St. Martin’s Press, 280 pp.
Most people are familiar with Palin for his work with Monty Python. That’s what drew me to the book; as a long-time Python fan I had to see what Palin’s fiction was like. 1 liked it. It was, however, nothing like Monty Python. Instead, Palin treats us to a dry, quirky, character study. Hemingway’s Chair, focuses on the life of Martin Sproale, the assistant manager of a small English post office. Sproale is quiet, shy, predictable, and completely obsessed with the life of Ernest Hemingway. His job is going nowhere, his relationship with his girlfriend is stagnant, and he still lives with his mother. When Sproale meets an American student that is studying Hemingway, his life begins to take on new meaning. The student (Ruth Kohler) begins to draw out Sproale’s inner Ernest. She tells him about an old deck chair of Hemingway’s that is up for auction. Sproale then begins to fixate on the chair. This is where Palin really shows his chops. The transformation of Sproale from a mild-mannered postal employee into an active, daring, Hemingway-esque character is brilliant. The main plot of the story involves the privatization of Sproale’s post office. He opposes this from the beginning and his opposition becomes stronger as he gets more in touch with his Hemingway persona. Also, Palin populates Sproales hometown of Theston with an interesting mix of oddballs and conservatives that allows him to poke fun at English manners and social morés along the way.
All told, I enjoyed the book considerably. Just don’t make the mistake of expecting Python-level humor here. Once I got past that, the book was much more enjoyable.