Conveniently, I have just finished reading a book which disappointed me, which is of course disappointing, but it at least gives me something to talk about for this blog. It is always a strange feeling when you do read a book, which you had a certain amount of expectation for, only to find that it doesn’t quite leave you feeling content. It’s not necessarily a bad book, but just not as good as you would have hoped. It doesn’t happen to me very often, because I try to go into reading books with no expectations, but sometimes it can’t be helped.
In this particular case, the book which disappointed me a little is Hemingway’s Chair by Michael Palin. Yes, the same Michael Palin from all the travel documentaries, and one of the members of the Monty Python comedy troupe. I have always love the comedy work of Monty Python, and have read books by other members of the group which I loved. I have read Michael Palin’s diaries from the Python years, which I found highly entertaining, and I have also admired his travel work. So you can sort of see why I had my hopes up for this, his only fictional novel.
Written in the mid 1990s, Hemingway’s Chair tells the story of Martin Sproale, a man in his mid thirties who still lives with his mother, in a small English village, working at a local post office, and growing his obsession with Ernest Hemingway. He is your typically pitiful protagonist who has no confidence, and absolutely no clue, and when he is beaten to the postmaster job by an ambitious outsider, who also steals his girlfriend, he reaches a point in which he must choose between defeat, or fighting for his beliefs, as Hemingway would. It sounds charming, and indeed in many ways is – the writing itself is particularly eloquent and very quintessentially English. But Martin is just too much, too weird, so much so that he isn’t likeable, and what changes do appear in his character during the story just seem bizarre and unlikely. It was one of those books where I read it, got to the end, and as I put it down, thought to myself “what just happened?” Not because I don’t get it, I understood the significance of the ending, and how the story all tied together but…I don’t know. I just didn’t like it as much as I hoped I would. It is a great piece of writing, and it captures a certain kind of Englishness very well, as anybody who has ever lived in a small English village will probably agree, but I just can’t help but think that Michael Palin is capable of so much more, of something much bigger, bolder and more powerful than this.
Have you ever read a book that disappointed you? If so, do you know why it disappointed you?