Monty Python funnyman Michael Palin’s debut novel has a few familiar ingredients, despite his desire to surpass the sketches, as
Ann Donald discovers.
Michael Palin's debut novel has been fermenting for nearly forty years. Ever since. as at Sheffield teenager. he started scribbling what he calls ‘awl'ul. macabre short-stories about people being buried alive'. the desire to progress onto more substantial literary fare has been whizzing round his pre and
Now his pubescent wish has come true in the guise of an engagineg wry tale. Hemingway 's Chair. The protracted ‘gestation period‘ of this lightweight novel has been due to certain ‘distractions'. as he modestly describes his notable career. There has been cult superstardom as a founder member of surreal nutters Monty Python; middling to ecstatic reviews for TV and lilm shenanigans like A Fish Col/ed llimila. GBH and A Private Function and a bamboozling
Michael Palin: the humour of a fourteen-year-old
‘ creations. Palin‘s compulsive prose succeeds in sucking the reader into Martin's hum-drum existence as we hurtle off to do battle with the demons of modern technology and faceless men-in-suits. attempting to update and dehumanise his beloved
: rural Postal Office. The climax is a rather unlikely l
showdown, with Martin metamorphosing into a
! happening to the post service . . . or because of any ‘ big—action issues. It's a story about an ordinary man with an obsession.‘ he explains matter-of—factly.
Martin‘s twin obsessions with ‘Papa' Hemingway
V and his crusade against the cybemetic Post Ofﬁce's
money-grabbing new breed. cross paths with a long-
standing theme that Palin has explored in previous
‘ work. ‘lt dovetails in with my theme, which is the
V, way in which the individual is now subtly
compromised. We think we live in a very free.
tolerant era but l‘m not sure . . . I think our lives are
controlled. albeit benignly. by big companies.
corporations and the media.‘
Despite this injection of gravity, Hemingway s Chair is ingrained with another of Palin’s longstanding. or rather ubiquitous concerns —
' humour. The prospect of writing a script or book
‘I think our lives are controlled, albeit ; benignly, by big companies, corporations
and the media.’
' without this vital spark is preposterous to him. ‘lt would just depress me,‘ he gn'ns. ‘l wouldn’t regard it as a whole piece of work. That [humour] is my way of looking at things and it offers the only hope sometimes when you look around. it's such a powerful force in peOple's lives. 1 think people tend to think of humour as a second or third—rate emotion which comes into its own on Comic Reliefnight or a few sitcoms. but it's there all the time. It's a way of dealing and connecting with people.‘
Fora man who confesses his sense of humour is stuck at ‘a puerile fourteen-year-old's tendency to the 3 silly and surreal‘. there is no fear of the world
number of travel, Python and childrens‘ books. There has also been the much-panned play The ll’wkeml. but we won't mention that.
Fresh from a sojourn in Spain. Palin is in bright and
. macho hero. ready to kick major ass. Booker Prize fodder? No. lrresistable, easy reading? Yes.
So Michael, is Martin the personification ofthe
worm that turned? ls he the anti-glamorous Luddite
becoming a po~faced place as long as Palin is dispensing his words of wisdom in print or any other format.
6 Hemingway 's Chair by Michael Palm is published by
breezy mode as we broach the mild-mannered world of his anti-hero Martin Sproale, assistant postmaster and obsessional Hemingway enthusiast. Despite his character being one ofthe literary world's least sexy
hero fighting against the encroaching evil of privatisation? ‘No.’ laughs Palin. There go any pretentious notions of a covert political diatribe. then. ‘It wasn't written because i felt angry about what’s
Merliuen at £14. 99 on Monday 3 April. See Book Even/s section for reading and signing sessions at James Thin. Edinburgh and John Smith & Son.
‘I always used to wonder what would happen if the centre of your face suddenly dlsappeared,’ ponders Bridget O’Connor in a flu-ridden voice. O’Connor is attempting to shed light on the 25-year-old woman in her story Kissing Time who embarks on a snogging spree in a vain attempt to ward of her impending teeth loss! After flicking through her debut collection of short stories, Here Comes John, this odd rumination ceases to assume perturbing connotations and blends into the alternately despairing, vulnerable and wryly cynical world created by the london-born author.
Here Comes John is an outpost, a meeting-place for disconnected urban voices, all tinged with a goulishly wicked humour that underlies each of
Bridget O’Connor: urban tories
the stories’ observations of the casual cruelty of ordinary human interaction. From the title story’s hardline gold- digger who has swapped love and romance for a trail of brash City Boy’s bank-balances to the self-centred teenager refusing to acknowledge her friend’s HIV status, the overall
impression is one of emotional retreat.
Each character has raised their own mute barrier only to have it punctured by O’Connor’s grinning, slightly jaundiced humour. ‘I think that is due to it being a very urban book,’ she acknowledges. ‘lt’s about people on their own. They are single people who suddenly meet other people, then they’re on their own again. It’s like knocking up against different personalities, but not really soaking them up.’
Bemarking on the distinctly edgy feeling that lingered long after I had put down the book, O’Connor laughs. ‘I thought it was quite light-hearted and full of jokes,’ she says iovially, before going on to explain her less than hearty frame of mind at the time of writing the book. ‘Actually it was a bleak time for me . . . l was unemployed so I spent a lot of time wandering around being bored then going home to write a story,’ she says, before assuring me that the next batch of stories, based loosely around
working lives, will be a lot happier in tone.
Despite a youthful dalliance with historical novels that left her with a hang-up for mini-dramas - ‘I always have to resist that temptation to do something crazy like suddenly have a mad axeman come in at the end!’ - O’Connor’s sharply stylistic prose also owes something to the art of fractured conversation. ‘I really like short things. Maybe it’s like a speech pattern that suddenly runs out of steam . . . the way something can be quite complete when somebody is telling you something, then they change the subject, implying right, that’s all over now, the mood’s gone. I really like that way of storytelling.’ (Ann Donald)
Here Comes John by Bridget O’Connor is published by Picador at £5.99. O’Connor is reading with John Mackenna, Eoin Mcllamee and Colrn Toibin as part of the Picador Irish promotion at Waterstones on There 23.