Hemingway's Chair

( 5 )


The hilarious and critically acclaimed national bestseller; A New York Times notable book of the year

"The book's strengths are...its dry, deftly understated wit; its careful plot and character construction; its clever, on-the-money dialogue...Those pleasures carry you a long way." --The New York Times Book Review

"What impresses most about Hemingway's Chair is [Palin's] firm command over the basic craft of novel-writing. His book is ...

See more details below
Paperback (First Edition, New Edition)
BN.com price
(Save 8%)$14.99 List Price
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (10) from $1.99   
  • New (5) from $7.89   
  • Used (5) from $1.99   
Hemingway's Chair

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
BN.com price


The hilarious and critically acclaimed national bestseller; A New York Times notable book of the year

"The book's strengths are...its dry, deftly understated wit; its careful plot and character construction; its clever, on-the-money dialogue...Those pleasures carry you a long way." --The New York Times Book Review

"What impresses most about Hemingway's Chair is [Palin's] firm command over the basic craft of novel-writing. His book is well-paced, his prose carefully-hewn, his characters fully developed and convincingly human. And his comic timing is impeccable." --Washington Post

"Throughout, Palin's empathetic humor informs this perceptive tribute to the art of manliness." --Entertainment Weekly

Martin Sproale is an assistant postmaster obsessed with Ernest Hemingway. He lives in a small English village, where he studies his hero and putters about harmlessly--until an ambitious outsider, Nick Marshall, is appointed postmaster instead of Martin. Slick and self-assured, Nick steals Martin's girlfriend and decides to modernize the friendly local office by firing dedicated but elderly employees and privatizing the business. Suddenly, gentle Martin is faced with a choice: meekly accept defeat as he always has, or fight for what he believes in, as his hero Hemingway would. Filled with Michael Palin's trademark wit and good humor, this novel is for anyone who has ever dreamed of triumphing over the technocrats and backstabbers of the world. Hilarious, touching and ultimately inspirational, Hemingway's Chair will make readers stand up and cheer.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
June 1998

Hemingway's Chair is the story of Martin Sproale, a mild-mannered assistant postmaster who lives with his mother, has dinner with his would-be fiancee once a week, and bicycles dutifully to work every morning. Martin has only one unconventional hobby: He is obsessed with the life of Ernest Hemingway, his brilliant and macho alter ego.

His hobby, too, is tamely confined to collecting memorabilia and reading every biography he can find — until an ambitious outsider, Nick Marshall, is appointed postmaster over his head. Slick and self-assured, Nick steals Martin's girlfriend and decides to modernize the friendly local office by firing dedicated but elderly employees and privatizing the business. Suddenly, gentle Martin is faced with a choice: meekly accept his defeat as he always has, or fight for what he believes in, as his hero would.

Aided by an American scholar writing a thesis about the women in Hemingway's life, Martin begins to explore his own passionate side. As the pair delves deeper and deeper into Hemingway's own psyche and plots Martin's revenge, they learn that there is a man behind every mouse — and a little bit of Hemingway in all of us.

Filled with Michael Palin's trademark wit and good humor, this novel is for anyone who has ever dreamed of triumphing over the technocrats and backstabbers of the world. Hilarious, touching, and ultimately inspirational, Hemingway's Chair is a new landmark for an already monumental talent.

The Washington Post

His book is well paced, his prose, carefully hewn, his characters fully developed and convincingly human. And his comic timing is impeccable.
The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

The spirit of Hemingway is evident in Palin's prose.

Well crafted and witty.
Entertainment Weekly

"Throughout, Palin's empathetic humor informs this perceptive tribute to the art of manliness."
From the Publisher

"Funnyman Palin brings a light touch to this yarn, treating his characters and their many weaknesses with an affection that will have readers rooting for his unlikely hero." --Pubishers Weekly
Bruce Weber
[The book has] 'dry, deftly understated wit...hearty, well-formed sentences...[and] clever, on-the-money dialogue. — The New York Times Book Review
Bruce Weber
[The book has] 'dry, deftly understated wit...hearty, well-formed sentences...[and] clever, on-the-money dialogue.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
The Monty Python veteran's debut novel is a slight but engaging oddity: an affectionate portrait of a shy and disappointed man who's obsessed with Ernest Hemingway. Pale, rash-prone Martin Sproale has worked at the Theston post office for the past 16 years. He maintains a chaste flirtation with his colleague Elaine, and is unfailingly polite to the eccentrics and busy-bodies who swarm in on a daily basis. The only question is: When will his boss retire, leaving Martin to ascend to the coveted position of Postmaster? While he waits, Martin comforts himself by nursing his quasi-secret obsession: He devours biographies of his hero, savors trivia, packs his room with Hemingway memorabilia. But Martin's staid routine gets shaken. His professional ambitions are dashed when a young man from central headquarters is sent to manage his post office. And another Hemingway enthusiast arrives in his somnolent seaside town: Ruth Kohler, on sabbatical from a New Jersey university, is holed up at a local farmhouse, writing a book about Hemingwayþs women. The work situation rapidly degenerates: The new boss is keen on modernization, and indifferent to the role that the post office has traditionally played in the community. Longtime clerks are fired, computers are installed, finally the office itself is moved out of its grand headquarters and into the back room of a candy shop. Martin's only consolation is the attractive scholar: The two of them drink grappa, argue over the relative merits of the master's works, and get down to some serious flirtation. Egged on by Ruth, Martin attempts to organize resistance to the post office changes, and is unceremoniously fired. Boozyrampages, manic schemes, and some self-discovery ensue as the timid postal clerk gets in touch with his inner Ernest. The pairing of gentle satire and dead-on description of raw human pain is a bit disconcerting, but in all, Palin offers a lively, if slight, ride to nowhere in particular.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250036513
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 7/16/2013
  • Edition description: First Edition, New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,499,500
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

MICHAEL PALIN is a comedian, novelist, actor, and playwright, well known from the Monty Python television show. Hemingway's Chair is his first novel. He lives in North London.

Read More Show Less

First Chapter


Marsh Cottage stood a little way back from a road that led to a cliff top and then stopped. It had once run out to a headland where there had been a small village, but the sea had clawed away the soft sandy cliff and the houses had long since disappeared. Now, apart from Marsh Cottage itself, the road served only a pair of holiday chalets. It was neglected and full of potholes.

    On either side of the cottage lay flat countryside, tufty grassland on the landward side and on the other grazing marsh running a half-mile down to the sea. The house had been flooded several times since it was built in the early 1930s but more recently the local council had raised the sea defences in an attempt to create an extra beach or two, and since then it had been safe from the spring tides.

    Marsh Cottage looked what it was. The unsuccessful prototype for an abandoned housing estate. Redbrick walls two storeys high ran up to a pitched slate roof. A suburban bay window faced on to the road with the front door to one side. Beside the house was a detached garage alongside which a passage led round to the back. In the seventies a white-painted wood and glass extension had been added to the rear of the house and framed the old back door.

    On this Thursday morning in early September Marsh Cottage looked particularly vulnerable as it took a westerly wind full in the face. An unhealthy yellow sky offered worse to come as a bobble-hatted figure emerged from the garage, wheeling a bicycle. He secured the door of the garage behind him, patted the pockets of a sky-blue anorak, checked the fastenings on a pannier basket and, mounting the bicycle with care, negotiated the short, bumpy driveway and turned southwards in the direction of the town of Theston, two miles away. Martin Sproale had made this journey, on various bicycles, for most of his adult life. He was now thirty-six, a little over six feet tall, with a round, soft face and light reddish hair. His skin was pale and prone to rashes, and his hands were long and fine.

Elaine Rudge, who worked at the post office alongside Martin, was still at home. She lived in the centre of town and could walk to work, and in any case she didn't have the responsibility of opening up, which brought Martin in on the dot of half past eight. Hair-grip between clenched teeth, she was standing before the kitchen mirror, concentrating on herself and a vital quiz question on the Dick Arthur Breakfast Show.

    `The capital of Indonesia is Jakarta, Mombasa or Rio de Janeiro? The capital of Indonesia . . .'

    As the voice from the radio came again, Joan Rudge, a trim, energetic woman in a padded nylon housecoat, gave a short dismissive laugh. `Well, it's not going to be Rio de Janeiro, is it. That's in Brazil.'

    Elaine took the grip from her teeth and thrust it into the back of her head. `Mum, I'm trying to listen.'

    `Soft, these questions.'

    `You've still got to work out if it's Mombasa or -- what was the other one?' Elaine said, reaching for a piece of paper.

    `Jakarta, Mombasa or Rio de Janeiro?' repeated Dick Arthur obligingly.

    `Must be Jakarta.'

    `Well it'll not be Rio de Janeiro,' her mother said again. `That's definitely in Brazil. That's where Uncle Howard ended up.'

    Elaine bit her lower lip for some time and then wrote down `Mombasa'.

    She returned to the mirror and stood a little back from it. She'd chosen her clothes with more care than usual this morning, as it was a Thursday and she and Martin always had a drink at the Pheasant on Thursdays. The pink cotton blouse was simple but sophisticated, not figure-hugging but very feminine. She looked in the mirror and flicked the collar up. Then she flicked it down. She wasn't pretty, she knew that. She was a hefty, well-proportioned young woman, but on some days she could look oddly beautiful, the way Ingrid Bergman did when they photographed her nose right. Her thick head of copper-brown hair needed work but repaid the effort. She'd woken up with an ominous tenderness on her lower lip and was relieved to find on closer examination that it was nothing more than the tiniest of pimples which she would have no trouble in disguising. Unless of course Martin was in one of his touching moods. The other evening they'd been together down by the beach huts and he'd run his fingers very gently over her face, paying special attention to her lips. Elaine was curious to know where he'd learnt this, but didn't like to ask. She had concluded that it must have been from a magazine, or one of his books. She hadn't liked it much, as the tips of his fingers smelt of postal adhesive.

    The next question on the Dick Arthur Breakfast Show concerned nocturnal animals. `That's animals that only come out at night,' Dick Arthur added helpfully, though most of the question had been obscured by the noise of Frank Rudge's Dormobile pulling into the yard. Through the window Elaine could see him wince with discomfort as he slid the door open and extracted himself gingerly from the driving seat. Thursday was market day at Norwich and he'd been out on the road before dawn. Paul, his latest acquisition from the Youth Training Scheme, checked his spiky blond hair in the wing mirror and by the time he'd got down, Elaine's father already had the back open and was reaching for the first of the long, flat boxes of Spanish lettuce.


Theston post office was part of an uncompleted 1930S development in the centre of the town. It was the work of Cedric Meadows, the Borough Architect, who had left for Malaya a year later, leaving undisclosed debts. On a good day, when Martin cycled into North Square he saw the redbrick walls, the asymmetric stone-dressed tower, the steeply gabled roof and portentous curved steps up to the bulky oak front door as a rather splendid mess. On a bad day he barely saw the post office at all, his eye being drawn unwillingly to the neonbordered, poster-plastered window of the video store on its left and the jumble-sale jolliness of the Save the Children shop on its right.

    As he had done every morning, forty-eight weeks a year for the last sixteen years, Martin cycled around two sides of the square and turned into Echo Passage. If there were no unwelcomely parked cars he would slowly raise his right leg, transfer his weight to the left-hand pedal and, braking as he did so, glide balletically into Phipps' Yard, coming to rest, precisely, alongside the back steps of the post office. Ernie Padgett, the current Postmaster, a title he had privately refused to relinquish when postmasters had been officially renamed managers four years earlier, lived on the premises. He would normally have opened up and had some tea on, but recently he had been unwell and with retirement imminent had seemed to be losing interest in the job. Highly irregularly, he had entrusted his assistant, Martin, with a set of keys and these Martin had to use today.

As Elaine arrived there was already a brace of regulars waiting outside the main door. At their head was Harold Meredith, a small, sturdy man with a walking stick and a head of closely trimmed white hair, more often than not concealed beneath a tweed cap. He took care over his appearance and wouldn't dream of leaving the house in anything less correct than a hound's-tooth jacket and an Army Pay Corps tie. His pale, smooth-skinned complexion showed little sign of age, though he was known to be over eighty. Since his wife's death five years earlier, the post office had become his adopted home.

    `You're up with the lark, Mr Meredith,' Elaine called jauntily, because that was the way he liked it.

    `I'm up for a lark any day,' came the ritual reply.

    `I'm too old for you, Mr Meredith,' Elaine protested and fluttered her eyelashes as she reached the top of the steps and pressed the doorbell for Martin to let her in.

    Elaine and Martin refrained from any physical contact whilst they were on post office premises. Even when there were just the two of them in the back kitchen they only ever touched accidentally. Elaine had begun to entertain increasingly elaborate fantasies of coffee-break passion but Martin remained the complete professional and, once he was inside the building, his sole relationship was with the public. No enquiry, however fatuous or ill informed, failed to receive his full attention, nor was any irrelevant personal information treated as less than engrossing. Even Mrs Harvey-Wardrell, whom Elaine thought the most vile creature imaginable, could not dislodge his mask of professional affability.

    Pamela Harvey-Wardrell was the self-appointed queen of Theston society. She was a snob's snob, a woman of such epic and ineffable unselfconsciousness that, if born poor and unwelcome, she might well have been certified mad, She was another early riser. A keen ornithologist, she could often be seen on the marshes at dawn, glasses raised, scouring the reedbeds. She was over six feet tall and from a distance, in her deer-stalker, Barbour jacket and matching thigh-length waders, she could easily be taken for a small tree.

    Though she could wait for hours on a jacksnipe or a water rail she had no patience for humans and this particular morning her restlessness was almost tangible as Martin explained slowly and laboriously to Harold Meredith the intricacies of the Pension Income Bonds, something which he had to do on more or less a weekly basis. Mr Meredith nodded earnestly as he listened.

    `So would you like a leaflet?' Martin asked him.

    `Oh, yes please,' he returned, eyes lighting up.

    Martin leant down to the cupboard and, flicking it open with his right foot, withdrew a small pile of them. He detached one and handed it to Mr Meredith. `Here you are. Pensioners' Income Bond Booklet, Series 2.'

    `D'you want it back?'

    `No, you hang on to it, Mr Meredith.'

    `How much is it?'

    `Oh, for God's sake ...' came quite audibly from behind him.

    `Morning, Mrs Harvey-Wardrell.' Martin offered a placatory smile.

    She didn't seem placated.

    `I'm in a dreadful hurry.'

    `Yes, I'll be with you right away. That should answer all your questions, Mr Meredith.'

    `How much is it, Martin?'

    `Completely free. Compliments of the Post Office.'

    Mr Meredith's eyes swam with emotion. `I can remember when you could send a letter to Hong Kong for a penny halfpenny,' he said somewhat at random.

    Mrs Harvey-Wardrell exhaled threateningly. In paisley silk headscarf, thick-ribbed turtleneck sweater, body-warmer, tweed skirt, lisle stockings and lace-up brogues, she was looking about as feminine as Martin had ever seen her.

    `I could have walked to Hong Kong by now,' she snapped and, using her substantial weight advantage, began to edge Mr Meredith along the counter. Harold Meredith knew this tactic and had his own way of dealing with it.

    `Thank you, Martin,' he said, deliberately slowly. He gathered up his various documents, picked up his tweed cap, unhooked his walking stick from the edge of the counter and moved unhurriedly across the post office to the public writing desk. Here he set out his papers, then tried to engage Jane Cardwell, the doctor's wife, in conversation. Having failed to do so, he reread the latest brochures on Parcel Force rates, live animal export regulations and forwarding mail to a private address.

    Mrs Harvey-Wardrell began briskly. `What I need,' she announced in ringing tones, as if addressing an open-air rally, `is two postal orders. One for Sebastian who's just got into Eton with one of the highest Common Entrance marks they've ever had at Waterdene and the other for dear Charlie who's nowhere near as bright but I can't leave him out. Have you anything appropriate, Martin?'

    `Postal orders are all the same.'

    `No. I don't mean postal orders, I mean those sort of gift voucher things.'

    `Well, we've got these.' He withdrew two cards, swiftly and expertly, from his sliding drawer.

    `Those are ghastly,' said Mrs Harvey-Wardrell.

    `Well, that's all we have at the moment.'

    `They had dozens of them in Cambridge. All sorts of designs.' She looked down disparagingly at the two examples Martin had laid out on the counter. `I can't send a boy wrestling with the problems of adolescence a bunch of pansies.'

    `Geraniums, I think,' volunteered Martin.

    `And what's this one?'

    Martin examined the card. He wasn't too sure himself.

    `I think it's a ship in trouble.'

    `Artist in trouble, I should say. Who chooses these things?'

    `Well, Mr Padgett does the ordering.'

    Mrs Harvey-Wardrell lowered her voice to a whisper, which rang around the post office. `How is he today?'

    `Much the same.'

    She leant across the counter. There was something damp and musty on her breath, like the smell of an abandoned house.

    `The sooner there's some young blood in here the better, Martin. I'll take two ships in trouble.'

Everyone was waiting for Ernie Padgett's retirement. He had been Postmaster of Theston for twenty-three years and Assistant Postmaster for twenty years before that. `Padge', as he was universally known, had long been at the centre of Theston life, twice Mayor and, like his friend Frank Rudge, on and off the council for as long as anyone could remember. Half a dozen years ago, Padge and Frank had laid plans for a property business, a two-man Mafia to revitalise Theston's fortunes after the collapse of the local fishing industry. Investment was promised but all that was raised was expectation and, amidst recriminations, Frank Rudge became a greengrocer and Padge remained a postmaster.

    From then on expert Padge-watchers -- and there were many, for the relationship between post office and community is close and pervasive -- detected the start of a decline. He seemed to withdraw into himself, indeed on occasions to be downright surly. He developed a constant bronchial cough. He found the new, computerised systems no match for his voluminous memory, which he once boasted could retain the serial number of every new pension book issued over a six-month period. He relied more and more on Martin to get him through the last few years until he could retire and claim a pension for himself. But he was too proud a man ever to admit this and Martin remained in word, if not in deed, only assistant manager.

'They're sending three of them,' announced Padge in the lunch-hour.

    `Three what?' asked Elaine, glancing up from her cross-word, grateful for a respite from 14 across, `Hebrew prophet (5)'.

    `Three from area headquarters.'

    `What for?'

    Padge tapped the letter he was holding, impatiently.

    `For the -- you know -- for the farewell dinner.'

    `Dinner now is it, Padge?' asked Martin between mouthfuls of bread and cold chicken. `I'd heard it was cheese and pickles ... you know, something lean and mean and ready for privatisation.'

    Martin knew there was a dinner. He was the one who'd suggested it in the first place. Head Office had only offered sherry and a presentation, and now here they were muscling in on an occasion which was supposed to have been a surprise anyway. Padge took another look at the letter.

    `Still, three of them,' he said, with a touch of pride. `Shows they must consider it an occasion of importance.'



    `For your thoughts? What's occupying that big brain of yours?'

    Elaine and Martin were sitting together in the beer garden of the Pheasant Inn, at Braddenham, a modest village fifteen minutes' drive inland from Theston. Its thatched roof and quaintly angled half-timbered facade dated back to the late 1970s when it was rebuilt after a fire. The beer garden was little more than an outside space, a lumpy slab of lawn confined by a quick-growing cypress hedge. Half a dozen metal tables hugged the wall of the pub for protection. They looked out towards swings and a climbing frame which were to Ron Oakes, the publican, a Kiddies' Grotto, and to most of his regulars another way of recycling old tractor tyres.

    But now autumn was approaching and families with young children came only at weekends. Soon the swing would be chained and padlocked and the wind and rain would see to the paint on the climbing frame.

    Elaine preferred to sit in the garden if she could. In her experience, once inside a pub it was hard to keep a man's attention. He would find other men and they would start to argue over things that were of very little interest to her, generally football or fishing or cars or the inexorable decline of standards in almost every area except pub conversation.

    Human relationships were what interested Elaine. They were such an endlessly rich and fascinating subject, an all-year-round phenomenon. A twenty-four-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week phenomenon. Men could talk about passion and elation and despair if they happened within the confines of a league match, but for Elaine such emotions were too important to be squandered by football commentators. She was a romantic. She yearned and felt and sensed with an intensity which she had never yet been able to share. She had had boyfriends and they had said that they loved her, but she knew they loved go-karting and windsurfing just as much, and she wanted to be more than just an exciting evening out. Martin was different from the others. He wasn't gregarious, and he had no interest in sport.

    Though he was still reserved and uncomfortable in talking about his feelings, she was convinced that beneath it all Martin felt the same way she did, which was why she was attracted to him, why she persevered with the relationship. At least it was a relationship. Until the Christmas before last it had been two people sitting beside each other behind a post office counter. Now he touched her face and sometimes took her hand.

    Elaine watched him conduct some private battle with himself. He thrust his lower lip forward and drew in the muscles tight around his eyes.

    `You're quite pensive.'

    `I was thinking about the future,' he said.

    `Well, no wonder you were pensive. Which bit?' asked Elaine.

    `Which bit?'

    `Of the future.'

    `Oh ...' He smiled bleakly. `The nearest bit.'

    `Am I in it?'

    She knew this would irritate him and she was right. He took a studied sip at his beer and set the glass down before answering her.

    `As a matter of fact, no. Just me and a large public company.'

    `Beginning with P?'

    `How did you guess?'

    `There aren't many left to choose from,' she said.

    Martin smiled ruefully.

    `Are you not getting on well together, you and the Post Office?' she asked him.

    Martin's frown deepened. A shadow of a breeze came from somewhere and ruffled his fine, soft, red hair. `I don't know. That's the damn thing. I don't know. Padge is going in a fortnight and no one's written to me or got in touch with me. I mean, you'd think they'd have said something.'

    `Well, you know what they're like at Head Office. They've got lots on.'

    `Too much to bother with us?' Martin was indignant. `We work in a Crown office. Who runs it matters.' There was real anger in his voice, and it quite aroused Elaine.

    `You'll get it. I know,' she said.

    `You know, but what do they know? I know my job. There's nothing I don't know about running a post office. But oh no, that's not enough any more. Now it's all management training stuff. I hated that seminar in Ipswich. Role-plays. Making business plans. Couldn't think of a word to say.'

    To Elaine there was little more exciting than an angry man confessing a weakness. She grasped the remains of her pina colada decisively. `Look, let's finish our drink, go back via Omar's, get two cod and chips and take them down the harbour. It's a lovely night.'

    She watched Martin for a moment. The hairs in his nose needed clipping.

    `Kiss me,' she said.

    Martin glanced quickly round the garden.

    `Not here.'

    `No, here.' She pointed to the soft white skin at the bottom of her neck. `Here.'

    She thrust her chin high and pushed herself towards him.

    `I still think they should have confirmed it. They would in any other business.' He leaned across and put his lips lightly on the side of her neck. It smelt soapy.

    Elaine sighed. `Be nice if you could do that without having to look round first.'

    `I've got to be conscious of my public role. Specially when I'm Manager.'

    `It would be nice to have a drink from our own bar in our own living room without having to come out here every Thursday.'

    Martin nodded to himself. `I think I'll contact the union. Check the legal position.'

    Elaine reached in her handbag and brought out a bottle of cologne.

    `I'm thirty next year, Martin.'

    `There must be prior requirement of notification,' he said.

    `You know what I mean.' She dabbed the scent below her ears and around her neck. `Don't you, Martin?'

    Martin looked up warily. `You wouldn't want to be married to an Assistant Manager.'

    `No, you're right.' She leaned across and kissed his cheek. `But I wouldn't mind being married to a Manager.'

Read More Show Less

Interviews & Essays

On Tuesday, June 2nd, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Michael Palin to discuss HEMINGWAY'S CHAIR.

Moderator: Welcome, Mr. Palin. Any opening comments for our audience?

Michael Palin: Nice to be with you again. If any of my replies sound a little weary, I am on the last leg of a book signing tour, and though my voice box is working fine, my right hand is immobile.

Killian from Washington, D.C.: After all you have done in your career, what got you interested in writing a novel? And what inspired you to write HEMINGWAY'S CHAIR? Where did the story come from?

Michael Palin: Well, I've been trying to write a novel for about 40 years. I've made many starts, but this is the first one I've actually finished. The desire to write a novel, I think, is something that many writers probably succumb to eventually, mainly because it is -- in the way live theater is to an actor, novel writing is to an author. It's a chance to say what you yourself feel, without it having to be qualified by consultation or collaboration. HEMINGWAY'S CHAIR came from a very simple idea, which was to juxtapose an ordinary life with an extraordinary life, and to try to flip the two around, so that the ordinary man had the chance to become extraordinary, and the extraordinary man was seen to be, in a sense, more ordinary. Hence the postal worker on one end of the scale, and Ernest Hemingway, the great legend of the 20th century, on the other.

Belinda from Phoenix, AZ: First of all, happy (rather belated) birthday. Now for the question portion of our show. If you had attended Mr. Padget's "occasion of importance" in your book, which character's company would you have sought out and why? Or for those of us who are not English literature professors: Which character is your favorite? Remember, Martin before and Martin after are two different choices.

Michael Palin: I think the character I most would like to have been on that occasion is probably either Padget himself, the retiring postmaster, who is a loyal, decent, deeply confused man, though I identify with that. And the other one is Martin's current girlfriend, Elaine, who strikes me as having the admirable quality of a sense of reality tempered with a sense of humor.

Rick Vosik from Omaha, Nebraska: Michael, I've been devouring (figuratively) your travel books, having just finished AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS just an hour ago. They've been the highlight of my reading this year, and I really regret having finished all of them, Around the World, POLE TO POLE, and FULL CIRCLE. Do you have any definite plans for future journeys, and if so, can you tell us about them?

Michael Palin: I have no definite plans, but I am trying to put together a short series of possibly three 50-minute shows about the travels of Ernest Hemingway. The initial impetus for this came from the fact that I had acquired an enormous amount of information about Hemingway while working on HEMINGWAY'S CHAIR, and the aspect of his work that most impressed me was his ability to evoke an atmosphere and a sense of place. He had the ability of all really good travel writers to make you want to be there with him -- or if not with him, at least soon after he left. And I am in these documentaries. I shall be retracing the steps of Hemingway to places like Cuba, Key West, Spain, France, Montana, and the Michigan Peninsula.

Christiana Greener from Pensacola, FL: What is the wildest fact you learned about Hemingway while writing HEMINGWAY'S CHAIR?

Michael Palin: Good question! I particularly like the fact that he claimed to have slept with Matahari, the voluptuous and famous spy, in 1917. It was only later discovered that she died in 1915. He's also the only man that I know to have been in two plane crashes on the same journey. This was in Uganda in 1953, on a trip to see the dramatic Murchison Falls. Not only that, but he survived both crashes.

Bernie from Montana: Whether you are writing or acting for television, movies, your travel books, you seem to be simply brilliant at everything you set out to do! Having tested the waters of several different media, how does writing a novel compare? What drives you to try so many different art forms?

Michael Palin: I think what drives me to try all these different art forms is that I've not discovered any particular overriding talent for any one of them, so as far as I'm concerned, it's called "hedging the bets." However, I do feel like the breaking up of choices into certain categories disguises the fact that very often they all stem from the same basic abilities and talent, which could be summed up as the ability to communicate. I think if I have any particular ability, it lies in this area. I can communicate, I enjoy communicating, and I like to try as many different ways of putting across what I want to say as are available. The advantage of a novel over, say, writing a film script or acting in a movie or a television series is that the novel is, for a long time, entirely your own thing. As a novelist, you do not have to filter your work through a director, an actor, a cameraman, a designer. It is the most direct expression of your own thoughts and feelings.

P. T. from Chicago: There seems to be a relationship to the movie "Il Postino," which is about a postman. A famous poet inspires this simple postman to an extraordinary life. Can this comparison be made?

Michael Palin: I think "Il Postino" was in a sense more about a reality than a fantasy. As I remember it -- and it was a marvelous film -- it was based on a relationship between two living people, whereas in HEMINGWAY'S CHAIR, the central relationship between Martin and Hemingway is between someone alive now and someone dead for 36 years. In other words, it's about a man and a fantasy. However, what I've tried to do in the novel is to suggest that Martin's identification of the fantasy is so strong and so complete that as the story goes on, he almost makes Hemingway into a flesh-and-blood, living being. And that's where my novel loses track of the sturdy realism of the start, and enters an odd area of magical realism, done better by authors like Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. But it's an interesting area, which I am glad I investigated.

Sara from Gurnee: What are Opal Fruits?

Michael Palin: Opal Fruits are chewy little squares of various fruit flavors. Not chewing gum, not a sweet that you suck. Just a chewy confection, sold in rectangular packets about six and a half inches long.

Beast from West Virginia: I stopped by to say that my wife and I have enjoyed all you have been involved with. Unfortunately, I've not read the book as of yet but am ordering it now. My question: What is it you enjoy about comedy, and how you incorporate it in everything you do?

Michael Palin: Well, partly what I enjoy about comedy is that it's a reaction that is very difficult to control. So what I'm saying is, I enjoy its spontaneity. I enjoy the fact that comedy is a mischievous force. It happens to you sometimes when you least expect it, but it is a reaction which is always genuine. It can not be particularly analyzed or thought about. Good comedy just happens. I also feel that it is an immensely sane way of looking at the world. It is a subversive force. It does not fit well with regimentation or authority. It's the enemy of unthinking conformity. And it really makes me piss myself sometimes.

Tom Coonan from Atlanta, GA: Thanks for signing our books tonight! Can't wait to read. One aspect of your travel shows I love is your propensity to test the foods. What connections might you have drawn between these cultures and their foods?

Michael Palin: Well, food is a very important part of any culture. The poorer the country, the more simple their diet, and very often the more inventive the use of that limited diet. So in China or Vietnam, for instance, where food is mainly rice-based, the various additions, the sauces, et cetera, are often beautifully made to make the most of sometimes limited resources. America, and perhaps Britain also, are blessed with abundant resources, but very often make much less of them. Japan has food which, as befits an island, is largely seafood. But it also is served in the quite austere and simple style of much of Japanese life. So they developed a way of presenting fish as sushi or sashimi, which really has no counterpart anywhere else in the world. And it is the result of the very ritualized, simplified, formal way of presenting things in Japan.

Karen from Bloomington, IN: Dear Mr. Palin, did you find it sort of funny (I'm not sure if ironic is quite the right word) that tons of crazy fans like myself lined up for hours to get an autographed copy of a book about an obsessed fan?

Michael Palin: I think that shows that my novel is perhaps more in touch with reality than you might think. And thank you, everyone who has queued up. I love you most sincerely...if not obsessively.

Jenn from Canada: Who is Flanagan (an "also appearing" credit on a couple of Monty Python episodes)?

Michael Palin: Flanagan was the professional name of an actress whose real name I don't honestly know. She was on one or two of the Python shows when there was a need for real women doing things which Terry Jones and John Cleese were not capable of. I've lost touch with her over the last 30 years, honestly. Cal Cleveland was the main "real woman" on Monty Python.

Craig Milley from VT: I have just begun reading this book, and I love it. I must say, however, that its plot and humor, while fantastic, are much much more tame than your Monty Python days. Do you fear that people will compare this writing with the zaniness of your past efforts? It's almost like trying to break out of a genre.

Michael Palin: I don't fear any comparison with my previous work, because I think what I've established, amongst those who know my work, is a tendency to become impatient with one particular style or role. I'm always looking for something different. The novel continues that search. I only fear disappointing those who may find it not a good novel. The comparison with Monty Python does not worry me so much. It is a new direction, it was intended to be a new direction, and I hope it gives people something to think about. The only crime is to be dull and to waste people's time. So I'll shut up.

Christoph from New Rochelle, NY: Is this the dawn of a new career for you? Or is it a one-time try at the all-American novel (or all-British novel...). Thanks! I love all your work, and I can't wait to read this book!

Michael Palin: I hope it isn't a once-off, but in a sense, it is like throwing something into the water and seeing if it floats. I have written something which I hope will convey a good story and a lot of fresh ideas. It is up to the reader out there to send me signals back which, if good, will encourage me to write another novel, and if indifferent, will encourage me to try something else. A novel is like talking to somebody. If you get the right answers, then you certainly feel you would like to keep on talking. There are lots of ideas I have for further books. Life is full of stories, and if the reaction and reviews in America continue as good as they have been so far, I shall certainly have a go at more fiction.

Stella Rhiess from Plainview, NY: how did you go about writing HEMINGWAY'S CHAIR? Was this different from your usual approach to writing -- your screenplays, nonfiction, and so on? How?

Michael Palin: The main difference between writing HEMINGWAY'S CHAIR and other material I've done over the years is that, in this case, it was not an act of collaboration between myself and fellow writer, fellow director, fellow actor. I wanted very much to develop this novel on my own, and never showed it to my editor until I had finished the first draft. I wanted to enjoy the freedom to create characters, story, emotions, incidents as I wanted to, without having to compromise during the process. Everything I've written up til the novel was usually discussed and checked and rechecked throughout the writing process.

Johanna Prescott from Richmond, VA: You have seen some of the most bizarre things in your travels. Did these experiences help you to write this novel? Anything in particular?

Michael Palin: No, the novel is not really tied in any way to my travels. It stems more from a part of the world, Suffolk, in the east of England, which I know well, because I went on holiday there from the age of 15, met my present wife on the beach there when I was 16, and to which my parents retired, and where they lived for 20 years. It's a beautiful part of the world -- lonely, bleak, and the communities are very tight and quite proud. And it's this world that informed the novel, not the Pacific Rim.

Aleksandar from Yugoslavia: Hello, Mr. Palin. Before forming the Pythons, how did you see yourself professionally in the future, and what do you consider your biggest success until now.

Michael Palin: It was such a long time ago that we formed the Pythons, 30 years ago next year, that I can't really remember how I saw my life shaping up before that. I was a television comedy writer, an actor, and I suppose I hoped that I would find some success in both these fields. I think that part of my success was the experience gained with the Monty Python team that led me to respect creative independence, to value the rights of the artist and the creator, and to be prepared to fight for those rights whenever possible. Without Python, I probably would not have had the strength to do that.

Moderator: Thank you for chatting with us this evening, Mr. Palin. Any closing comments?

Michael Palin: Thank you for all the questions, many of which, like all good questions, I had to think very hard about. The question is, though, if Hemingway had been on the Internet, would he have ever written more than one novel.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2014


    "Why do you hate Rose?" I raise an eyebrow

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2014


    Why wouldn't l?

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2001

    Michael Palin's best? Everything's his best!

    Michael Palin's Hemingway's Chair is perhaps one of the best novels I've read that accurately displays a sense of fanaticism and fantasy all at once. This book is a must for all Palin fans, Python fans, and to anyone that ever felt like they had an intangible connection with something very real. No doubt, Hemingway's Chair will make any child at heart nostalgic, and with Palin's magnificent detail, humor, and impeccable timing, the novel is precisely what any reader will be looking for, whether the reader be young or old, a fantasist or simply someone just dying the 'get away.' This book is PERFECT, just like it's author!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2000

    Amusing, real, human, and original

    If you are not an Ernest Hemingway fan--and I am not, having only read The Old Man and the Sea way back in high school-- you can still enjoy this book, as it gives you enough Ernest to keep his influence relevant, while concentrating on the real story, which is the effect of change on 'the little people.' The only misfit among characters is the American writer. Tell me again: Why does a New Jersey college professor go to East-nowhere in England while on sabatical to write about Hemingway, unless it was to ensure absence of distraction. Perhaps because it is cheap? More explanation would have made her role less gratuitous, as she is a critical catalyst to the actions of our protagonist, Martin the Assistant Postal Inspector. Rather than lampoon the 'going postal' genre with slapstick violence, Pallin builds a case for a uniqely English version of a postal employee acting out in resonse to changes in the system. A breath of fresh air compared to the bloodbath an American TV show or movie would have used. The middle of the book holds the richest treasure, as we figure out where the title originates, and as characters react in authentically human ways to a variety of stimuli. In a blessedly concise length, the story of Everyman is told with humor, love and just a touch of that eccentricity that Pallin used to such good effect as a Python stalwart. If the characters weren't all developed in great depth, at least those who needed to be were deep enough to recognize as real. Enjoy this one, there aren't enough like it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)