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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, genuinely inventive writing, sharp and humourous
This is the best book I have read this year. Lethem is an excellent storyteller, inventive and unusual in his character depiction and engaging throughout. The dialogue is sharp, witty and perceptive between a collection of orphaned individuals whose universe revolves around the leadership of an exploitative father figure in a shadowy area of Brooklyn. It is part coming of...
Published on 27 Feb 2001

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars A tale of two parts
From the simplest perspective, this novel delivers a feeling akin to riding a roller-coaster from the '50s. What I mean by that analogy, is that although this is a roller-coaster ride of a tale, which has a likeable central character, well-drawn supporting characters, a reasonable plot-line, it suffers (like an ageing roller-coaster) from a lack of pace and umff, which...
Published on 1 Nov 2009 by ARWoollock


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, genuinely inventive writing, sharp and humourous, 27 Feb 2001
By A Customer
This is the best book I have read this year. Lethem is an excellent storyteller, inventive and unusual in his character depiction and engaging throughout. The dialogue is sharp, witty and perceptive between a collection of orphaned individuals whose universe revolves around the leadership of an exploitative father figure in a shadowy area of Brooklyn. It is part coming of age, part detective story, part sheer inventive storytelling and I liked it immensely.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Tourettian gangster world, 7 Nov 2009
By 
Officer Dibble (Zummerzet) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Motherless Brooklyn (Paperback)
Lionel Essog is one of the Minna Men on the edge of the law in modern New York. When their leader Frank Minna is knifed to death Lionel expects to find out whodunnit, 'just like in detective stories' but to his disbelief he discovers the tight little 'crew' fractures and he must investigate alone. He must also do so whilst overcoming advanced Tourettes Syndrome.

Ostensibly the book is thus set up as a crime whodunnit yet really we have a story about living with Tourettes. As such we see a Tourettian world; what is it like, what causes a reaction and what doesn't, how you can fight it and when you can't? The book is an excellent day by day (non-medical) intro to Tourettes and the detective story is really an unusual,engaging vehicle for that purpose.

The author tells lengthy jokes, Lionel talks directly to the reader,the 'tics' are itallicised and in truth become grating to read (thus also illustrating how frustrating this becomes if you have to live with it for real!).Lots of self-deprecating humour, 'I think I'll change my name to Shut Up to make it easier for everyone'.

Mr Lethem really makes Lionel a rounded, engaging character. He is not stupid nor is he Einstein. Furthermore he is not an avenging angel but he is savvy,street-wise and no pushover. He seeks a nice quiet sandwich rather than bloody mayhem. Check out the reviews before you buy as this is much more than a modern crime thriller.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exhilirating and Convincing Characters!, 19 Dec 2002
By 
Martin A Hogan "Marty From SF" (San Francisco, CA. (Hercules)) - See all my reviews
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Jonathan Lethem is a true original. His latest, "Motherless Brooklyn" manages to spin a tale of orphan misfits, detectives, gangsters and a main character that suffers from Tourette Syndrome into an impressive, rapid paced melee. The descriptions of the Brooklyn area, the characters and all the necessary sensory perceptions needed come through in snappy prose. Lethem's description of the 'impulses' and 'partly contollable' symptoms of Tourette are dead-on. Never has this reviewer read anything that so accurately captures the essence of Tourette and the personality in a novel. The reader can feel the symptoms of Tourette welling up in themselves as strongly as the character does on the page.
Half detective story and half a case study of a young man with Tourette, Lethem intertwines the two deftly, giving the reader little time to breathe between events.
The detective story may be slightly hackneyed and the closeness of the orphans and thier Fagan-like detective mentor could have been more intimately detailed, but Lionel Essrog and his Tourette's make fantastic fodder. Lethem goes for broke. This novel describes Tourette and real life on the streets like no other author has before.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An complex and original "whodunit", 1 Mar 2001
By A Customer
An Intriguing detective story, where the "detective" is a delinquent member of a gang of toughs, victim of Tourette's Syndrome. The argument is continuous and gripping. The struggle against the syndrome has elements of pathos and humour, and give a uniquely human touch to the sufferer and principal personality.
The story is set in Brooklyn, and gives some insight into the virtues and vices of the lives of the . The author is unknown to me, so when I picked the book up and started reading it, I was pleasantly suprised when I found that, not only is the story good, but it is also well written.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Orphaned again in Brooklyn, 5 Sep 2008
By 
Annabel Gaskell "gaskella2" (Nr Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Motherless Brooklyn (Paperback)
Lionel is a young man - an orphan with Tourettes. Yet his boss Frank sees something in him worth cultivating unlike many others in Brooklyn who don't take him seriously. When Frank is murdered, Lionel vows to find out whodunnit. This is Lionel's story of how he found Frank, (or Frank found him) and his work to solve the crime - all seen through the body of someone with Tourettes, constantly ticcing and having other compulsive behaviours.

There's something romantic about Brooklyn in books that gives me more of a sense of a real neighbourhood than Manhattan, it's somewhere to live, wheel and deal, and get on with life, you feel at home there. It's also a place where an outsider like Lionel - who would be considered totally crazy elsewhere, can fit right in as part of Frank's work family. So when Frank is killed, Lionel loses his surrogate father and as he progresses in his quest to solve the murder he has to finish his growing up fast.

For three quarters of the novel, the detective story is really secondary to Lionel's life story. In the last quarter as everything falls into place to allow him to solve the crime, it does rather rush to its conclusion - but what crime novel doesn't do that?

This is an immensely readable and extremely enjoyable New York novel with a loveable and quirky main character.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Tell your story walking", 27 April 2012
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Motherless Brooklyn (Paperback)
A group of teenagers from the local Brooklyn Orphanage find themselves recruited by a local man, Frank Minna, for various jobs to do with his taxi work and moving house business, though they soon find out some of the work they are doing has an edge of illegality. The story of their coming of age, if such it can be termed, is told by Lionel Essrog, who has Tourette's Syndrome and is casually nicknamed Freak and sometimes worse. Tourette's Syndrome is an inherited neuropsychiatric disorder with onset in childhood, characterised by multiple physical (motor) tics and at least one vocal tic. Most cases are mild and the severity of tics decreases as the sufferer ages. Children between ages of 5 to 18 may have symptoms such as transient and chronic eye-blinking, coughing, throat clearing, sniffing and facial movements. Extreme Tourette's in adulthood is a rarity and does not adversely affect intelligence or life expectancy.

The condition has not abated in Lionel unfortunately, and he is subject to verbal tics, counting and the almost uncontrollable urge to touch people, mostly around the collar (he relentlessly rights any carelessness or untidiness around this region. Understandably perhaps, this does not endear him to casual acquaintances, such as policemen, for instance. But it is not something he can always control, as he says, "For me counting and touching things and repeating words are all the same activity. Tourette's is just one big lifetime of tag really..."

The book opens with Lionel and Gilbert (another of the Minna man gang) following their boss by means of a secret microphone linked to an Ear in their car. Only it doesn't look good for Frank, who has been seen by Lionel getting into a car with a giant of a man.

This book is both funny and touching as Lionel and his peers come to grips with a most unfortunate event in their lives as Minna men. Lionel is the most insistent that they are kind-of detectives, not just taxi or house-moving drivers. The unravelling of the "wheels within wheels" - one of several catchphrases of Frank Minna's, is what the redoubtable Lionel is determined to do. The characters are all on the edge of legality, yet Lionel retains some aspects of his innocence as the plot begins to unravel. It is an excellent read that leaves you both sad and oddly cheered that Lionel will go on in some capacity, discovering those moments when he is truly himself.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Edgy. Brilliant., 4 Feb 2011
This review is from: Motherless Brooklyn (Paperback)
I came to this a bit late I must admit, the only one to suffer was myself. Oh how I wish I'd read this sooner. It's brilliant. It's Lethem's fifth novel and for me it shows him at the top of his game. He's exploring what seems like new territory for him, a brave move and a challenge he's risen to like no other. I honestly don't think that's an exaggeration. He's found his feet with the sentence, and moves you through this story with master strokes, with humour, and uncanny insight. Working with a detective has suited him well, working through the clues, at times uncovering, at others teasing out - and handling Tourette's inside a novel in such depth - a highly skilled author. Edgy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique, original, inventive - Lethem's best?, 14 May 2007
By 
Roger Sharp (Kenley, Surrey, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Motherless Brooklyn (Paperback)
I'd rate this as Jonathan Lethem's most successful book.

In addition, he manages to create a convincing new angle in the criminal detective genre - a hard thing to do, given all the competition.

He effortlessly paints a vivid portait of Brooklyn, without needing pages of prose. He builds on this with a subtle plot that is perfectly concieved and sustains the reader from start to finish.

Above all, he manages to combine the elements of comedy and pathos, kindess and violence, compexity and simplicity in a most elegant way.

Finally, his insight into the mind of the central character who has Tourette Syndrome is probably the best in any novel.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable insight, 1 Mar 2010
By 
Benjamin (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Motherless Brooklyn (Paperback)
Lionel is one of four boys from a Brooklyn orphanage enlisted to help the young Frank Minna, Lionel is then thirteen years old. When the boys eventually leave school Franks takes the boys on full time as he establishes is rather shady detective agency which operates under the cover of a limo service. It is some fifteen years after Lionel first encountered Frank that they are on a surveillance which leads to Frank being murdered. Lionel takes on the task of seeking vengeance for the death of the nearest thing he has had to a father.

The story covers the early period of the boys employment and then picks up at the time of the ill fated surveillance, and Lionel's subsequent hunt for the murderer. Not sure who to trust, even amongst his three fellow orphans or anywhere else, Lionel works more or less alone, on more than one occasion putting himself in serious danger. Lionel narrates the account in the first person.

The plot alone would make an interesting novel, but what makes this story special is that Lionel is no ordinary boy, he suffers from Tourett'es syndrome, and is prone to tics, frequent verbal outbusts often of made up words, counting and obsessions with numbers, and touching people. A condition which confuses most people he meets as most are not familiar with the condition. In Lionel Jonathan Lethem has created a remarkable character, one who is appealing and who immediately engenders our sympathy. This is done entirely through the inner person that is Lionel; it would have been easy to make Lionel physically endearing, but rather Letham chooses to make him a large and rather ordinary looking person. The result is that his affliction becomes the source of his appeal.

Motherless Brooklyn is a well written and captivating and moving story, but more than that it is a story about a remarkable character. It also provides a vivid insight into the condition known as Tourette's syndrome.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A tale of two parts, 1 Nov 2009
This review is from: Motherless Brooklyn (Paperback)
From the simplest perspective, this novel delivers a feeling akin to riding a roller-coaster from the '50s. What I mean by that analogy, is that although this is a roller-coaster ride of a tale, which has a likeable central character, well-drawn supporting characters, a reasonable plot-line, it suffers (like an ageing roller-coaster) from a lack of pace and umff, which means it loses momentum in parts and ultimately ends up coasting to the finish.

I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading for either style and or content, although it has to be said that the reader for style will enjoy this more that the once searching for content. The story is quite mediocre, the plot a little dull in parts and many of the characters are quite predictable. From a narrative perspective then, it doesn't really offer the reader anything new. Where this book does excel, is in the central character and how he perceived the world and conversely how the world perceives him. In that regard the thin 'murder-plot' is largely irrelevant, it is simply a vehicle through which to present this quite extraordinary rendering of a man afflicted with Tourette's and how that man navigates the world around him.

Of course having stated the above, I should now reveal to the more advanced reader, that it is not a detective story at all. There is no crime, the crime is in the mind of the central character (like the illusive 'giant') and Brooklyn is simply a metaphor for his affliction. Towards the end when he ventures out into Maine and experiences the absence of physical walls and the opportunity for new experiences, this again represents a shift from his movement away from dependence on his tics (Brooklyn) to a more tic-free existence.

As the author hints at early on in the text. Suffers of any lengthy disorder or disease come to embody themselves in that affliction. If the disease or disorder is cured or treated and they are left tic free, addiction free, illness free, then it is as if their Self, their identity too has been removed and erased. That is really the central thesis of this novel.
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Motherless Brooklyn
Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (Paperback - 1 July 2004)
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