Motherless Brooklyn

One of my colleagues said Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem was a must-read crime novel – he was so right!

A totally refreshing and absorbing take on a crowded genre, this is the tale of Lionel Essrog, recruited as a teenager, with three others, to be an enforcer for the local gangster. All orphans, residents of St Vincent’s Home for Boys, the ‘Minna Men’ are set up with a faux-detective agency/chauffeur service as a cover for their more criminal activities. When their patron, the  gangster, is murdered, the now adult Lionel finds himself trying to be a real detective, and solve the mystery of who killed Frank Minna. Lionel is hampered – and helped in unusual ways – by the fact that he has Tourette Syndrome: he has irresistable urges  to rearrange things, touch surfaces and call out strings of words, phrases that have enchanted his brain and peculiar sounds. Lethem does an amazing job of portraying not just the absurd utterances and frustrating rituals that Lionel exhibits, but exploring how the condition interrupts and effects Lionel’s very thoughts and how he navigates the often unfriendly, always puzzled world, a world dangerous enough because of his gangster-related activities.

The writing is really good, the characters realistic, you certainly come to care about Lionel and the story is shocking and urgent and original. Like Lionel, it feels like chaos barely contained.

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