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Motherless Brooklyn

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  21,336 ratings  ·  1,825 reviews
Lionel Essrog is Brooklyn’s very own self-appointed Human Freakshow, an orphan whose Tourettic impulses drive him to bark, count, and rip apart our language in startling and original ways. Together with three veterans of the St. Vincent’s Home for Boys, he works for small-time mobster Frank Minna’s limo service cum detective agency. Life without Frank Minna, the charismati ...more
Paperback, 311 pages
Published October 24th 2000 by Vintage (first published 1999)
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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg LarssonThe Big Sleep by Raymond ChandlerThe Maltese Falcon by Dashiell HammettThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonMurder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Detective Fiction
18th out of 708 books — 790 voters
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldA Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty  SmithBreakfast at Tiffany's by Truman CapoteExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Tales of New York City
32nd out of 885 books — 823 voters


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Community Reviews

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Jason
I used to have a customer with Tourette’s. Back when I was a teenage supermarket teller, a million and a half years ago, she used to come through my line routinely. At the time, I didn’t reflect much on her condition other than that I assumed it must be tough for her occasionally, but how tough it really was I considered only in the vaguest sense, to the extent that I considered it at all. (Sorry, lady, but I was 17 and had a whole slew of 17 year-old thoughts to preoccupy myself with.) She seem ...more
Darwin8u
A kinda egg-sandwich surprise, hardboilded detective novel. I'm still a bit unsure of what exactly was all tossed in (is that lemongrass?). Zen masters? Check. Tourette's? Check. Man-crushes and awkward touches? Check check. Prince (or the Artist Formerly Known AS Prince)? Also, check check checkaramadingdong.

Look fair weather readers, I like Lethem (see four stars...I couldn't stop at three), just like I like Chabon. Actually, almost exactly like I like Chabon. There is a certain dance, jig, a
...more
JSou
Maybe I've just been lucky picking out some incredible books lately, but I feel like a lot of them are "my new favorite", or "one of the best I've read this year", but I really have to say it again for Motherless Brooklyn. Lethem's writing style had me from the beginning, and the story, being told from the perspective of Lionel Essrog, a man with Tourette's Syndrome was fascinating. It reads like a mystery/detective novel, but really, it's so much more than that.

Also, it was just one of those bo
...more
Jason
Way too gimmicky! About Motherless Brooklyn Newsday calls Jonathan Lethem "one of the most original voices among younger American novelists;" while Entertainment Weekly describes him as "one of our most inventive, stylish and sensous writers." I strongly disagree. I think these organiztions have confused originality with gimmickry.

Goodreads interviewed Jonathan Lethem in their November newsletter. I'd never heard of him. I checked out a couple of his books at the library, one for me, one for my
...more
Steve
Frank Minna was a small fish in a big city pond full of piranhas and scum. He was nimble, though; good with angles. His best move was when he recruited four young guys from the local orphanage, before they were old enough to shave, to be errand boys. These young bucks were eager, loyal assistants that somebody dubbed Motherless Brooklyn. Frank treated them to bigger boy delights like twenty dollar bills and bottles of beer for their efforts, and they just stayed on staff as they got older and mo ...more
Jan Rice

And the third time's indeed the charm!
Read previously circa 2000 and again several years later. My first read, at least, was as an audiobook.

This is the tale of four punks and a hood
In Brooklyn, New York, tryin' to make good,
Mommyless orphanage, no Cub Scouts or den--
Instead, Mista Meanor made 'em his men.

Once they're abandoned, the center can't hold;
Our ticcy hero must be bold (or fold).

You follow the thread as the story unspools,
Learning who are the wise guys and who are the fools
And who, th
...more
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Every few months a book gets past my quality control screening. I ought to stop beating myself up over that fact. Generally I am happy to outsource my opinions about books not yet read to smarter people; I must have lapsed this time out, tempted by the $0.3333 price tag for a recognized yet unknown author with a sexy name. I had a strong desire to drop this text at page 30, but my inexperience with positively negative reviews naively committed myself to reading the whole damn thing merely for th ...more
Kim

Tell me to do it muffin ass …. to rest the lust of a loaftomb! …. Barnamum Pierogi lug!

Meet Lionel Essrog. Viable Guessfrog, Lionel Deathclam, Liable Guesscog, Ironic Pissclam. Lionel is a Minna Man. A full fledged Hardly Boy… A freakshow… A member of Motherless Brooklyn.

I love Lionel. Not in my special groupie way. Hold your hats here; I might be growing as a person. Nah. I just really love Lionel’s brain. Peirogi kumquat sushiphone! Domestic marshmallow ghost! Insatiable Mallomar!

Did I men
...more
Drew
Is Jonathan Lethem a genius? A virtuoso? (to use the terms used ad naus. in The Loser) I think not. Is Motherless Brooklyn a work of genius? Also no. But that doesn't mean it isn't still awesome.

Lethem's deconstruction of the detective novel is painfully obvious. He fashions his protagonist by stripping him of one of the most recognizable traits of the hard-boiled private eye--laconism. Lionel Essrog doesn't have a way with words; they have their way with him. Every time he questions someone to
...more
Alison
Jul 06, 2008 Alison rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: "crazies", "maniacs", "freaks" (i.e. everybody)
Motherless Brooklyn is a beautifully written novel about a complicated man named Lionel Essrog who is an orphan and a sufferer of Tourette's. As we all know about Tourette's, the syndrome causes you to spurt out words (sometimes profanity) during periods of stress in order to ease an internal undying mental angst. Lionel also suffers from OCD and the infinite need to count things...to mix words in his head and regurgitate them in order to sort through the chaos that is everday life for a hood in ...more
Gary  the Bookworm
Lionel Essrog is an unforgettable character. Like all fictional detectives he has one defining characteristic; something which sets him apart: Lionel has Tourette's Syndrome. This turns out to be an asset for him when he sets out to find his mentor's killer because everyone assumes he is stupid. What works for him as a detective unfortunately undermines his effectiveness as the protagonist and narrator. The virtuosity demonstrated by Lethem, as he joyfully strings syllables together for Lionel t ...more
Myleen  Hollero
"eat shit, dickyweed"
Elyse
I read this 'often hilarious'-[one-of-a-kind]-novel many years ago --

The main character has Tourette's syndrome. I must have read this about 10 years ago. I've yet to read another novel (crime-satire-whodunit-to boot), with a story centered around 'Tourette's syndrome.
No other author wanted to go toe-to-toe with, Jonathan Lethem, huh?

"Eat S*it"... "go F#*+K yourself" ...."Thehorrorthehorror" .....
and "Icouldabeenacontender!" is endearing in the most pure *Zen-in-the city*!

Wonderful reviews he
...more
Jessica
I'd always planned on really loving this book, not sure why or how that started but it was probably when Fortress of Solitude came out and I really loved that (really loved the first half, anyway) and a bunch of people told me Motherless Brooklyn was even better. It sounded like something I'd like a lot, so I've tried every few years since then but could never make it in past the beginning. This time, though, I did, and read the whole thing pretty quickly and without too much groaning or whining ...more
Fewlas
Come l’olio nell’acqua. Seconda puntata.

Leggendo questo romanzo di Lethem non ho potuto fare a meno di continuare a pensare a “Pulp” di Bukowski, e a quanto poco mi aveva affascinato. Entrambi parodie del genere hard boiled, questi due libri contengono due precisi elementi che poco riescono ad amalgamarsi: 1. la parodia, appunto, del genere poliziesco o giallo; 2. la personalità del protagonista detective che vuole andare un passo oltre la parodia mostrando stravaganze o, semplicemente, presenta
...more
Chloe
I have been on a bit of a mystery bender lately and I'm not quite sure what to make of that. Perhaps it's the return to the overcast North-West that sends me wanting to plumb the depths of human behavior. The gray skies and early sunsets bring out a curiosity about people's inner darkness which is always matched, measure for measure, by the capacity for redemption. Toughs with no visible qualities reveal a fierce dedication to recently killed compatriots. Prima facie immorality is revealed to be ...more
Violet wells
There are more laugh out loud moments in this novel than in anything I’ve read for ages. Lionel, the orphaned aspiring detective with Tourettes is an adorable character. (Lethem helps us understand that we all have Tourettes to some extent: "Insomnia is a variant of Tourette's--the waking brain races, sampling the world after the world has turned away, touching it everywhere, refusing to settle, to join the collective nod. The insomniac brain is a sort of conspiracy theorist as well, believing t ...more
Abby
Jun 07, 2014 Abby rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2014
My words begin plucking at threads nervously, seeking purchase, a weak point, a vulnerable ear. That's when it comes, the urge to shout in the church, the nursery, the crowded movie house. It's an itch at first. Inconsequential. But the itch is soon a torrent behind a straining dam. Noah's flood. That itch is my whole life. Here it comes now. Cover your ears. Build an ark.

“Eat me!” I scream.


Or more often, “Eat me, dickweed!” Meet Lionel Essrog, undoubtedly the only fictitious gumshoe with Touret
...more
David Lentz
Lionel Essrog must rank as one of the most original narrators of a novel in contemporary fiction. He deals in good faith with his Tourette's syndrome, gently educating us, amid the harsh and brutal reality of Brooklyn. Essrog is a kind of existential orphan in a motherless city. He is consumed with finding order, patterns, balance, symmetry and controlling urges to scream his innermost sensibilities in public. His friends call him "Freak Show" and yet he has one of the most endearing narrative v ...more
Jonathan Peto
I enjoyed this story quite a bit. I have no idea if the main character, Lionel Essrog, is portrayed accurately or well, since he has Tourette's Syndrome, but it's interesting, as well as funny and sad at times. It's a detective story, a spoof perhaps, but not an obnoxious send-up. The genre's cliches are not included for cheap laughs; they are put to good use.

Lionel's boss is murdered at the beginning. And then they're off and running! Brooklyn, a Russian killer, mafioso, small time hoods, Japan
...more
Jeremy Zerbe
I've got this bad habit. Sometimes, in half a frenzy, not even knowing what I'm doing, I find myself on the way out of a bookstore with a bag of books that I've just bought for no other reason than the fact that I felt like I needed a book. I am not at my most discerning in these shopping sprees, judging books not only by their covers, but by their font, their publisher and their author's name and its corresponding coolness. Sometimes, I come out on top, and I stumble upon amazing authors before ...more
Bastet
Desde La conciencia de Zeno andaba buscando una novela entretenida, bien narrada, con un personaje atrayente, y por fin la he encontrado. Quise agenciarme Huérfanos de Brooklyn desde que leí una reseña elogiosa en un blog, y aunque me costó mucho dar con un ejemplar, la espera ha merecido la pena.

Es imposible aburrirse con esta novela; el misterio sobre quién ordenó matar a Frank Minna, el protector de los cuatro huérfanos que le ayudan en sus trapicheos, se mantiene hasta el final. Lionel Essr
...more
Ellie
This book came out when I was at the height of my fascination with Tourette's Syndrome so that probably played a part in how much I loved it. As well as loving most things Brooklyn, orphan or neglected children as heroes, and, oh year, GREAT writing. I love ALL things Lethem (and not because he writes about Brooklyn but probably the other way around!).
This story of a feisty, resilient, greatly-buffeted boy growing up in (you guessed it) Brooklyn is ultimately a moving tribute to childhood and hu
...more
Sergsab
#Brooklynkids

Pensaba darle 4 estrellas. La novela no es perfecta y soy capaz de detectar los defectos. Pero si la novela hubiese sido la perfecta historia noir, ejemplar en contenido y ejecución, seguramente no me hubiera conmovido como lo ha hecho esta impresionante e imperfecta novela de detectives.

Porque Lionel Essrog es un personaje tan bien construido, tan sólido y distópico en su forma de estar en el mundo que todo cobra un nuevo sentido. Sus tics son un ventana desde la que ver de forma t
...more
Ami
Lionel Essrog, a detective suffering from Tourette's syndrome, which compels him to count, tap and make strange vocalizations at inopportune moments, spins the narrative as he tracks down the killer of his boss, Frank Minna. Minna enlisted Lionel and his friends when they were teenagers living at Saint Vincent's Home for Boys, ostensibly to perform odd jobs (we're talking very odd) and over the years trained them to become a team of investigators. The Minna men face their most daunting case when ...more
Elizabeth
Totally original. Johnathan Lethem is a language rock star.
Sandra
Prima di tutto mi unisco a chi prima di me ha criticato la discutibile scelta della traduzione del titolo in italiano, che sarebbe stato preciso se fosse stato tradotto letteralmente dal titolo americano, Brooklyn senza madre.
E' un giallo con caratteristiche peculiari: la trama gialla c’è, c’è l’omicidio di Frank Minna, un piccolo boss italoamericano invischiato con la mafia e con affari made in Japan; c’è uno dei suoi Uomini, Lionel Essrog, soprannominato Testadipazzo, che si improvvisa detecti
...more
Keith
Remember in 1999, when DVD players were just becoming affordable and snot noses in college were getting them for their dorm rooms? They invited you over to watch and the only DVD they had was The Matrix. Why? Don't know. It was just the first choice everyone made. But, it sure did look cool.

Motherless Brooklyn is the book version of that for any newbie moving into Brooklyn (or quasi-Brooklyn like myself). Either the title compelled them to buy it ("I live in Brooklyn, this MUST be for me") or t
...more
David
A private detective with Tourette's Syndrome...the possibilities for linguistic pyrotechnics were endless...but hardly ever explored.

Because of this it was a disappointing book.

No real play with language, no genuine exploration of the marginalization of its sufferers, and then there was the narrative.

The characters, plotting, asides, crises just never engaged me in any deep or arresting manner.

The blending of the literary novel (character driven) and genre (detective/noir fiction) was another po
...more
Keryn
What a refreshing read! Quite unique, both in the style and the content. Once again, a book chosen for our Goodreads Book Club that I would never have tried, and am pleased I have now partaken of this detective novel that won two literary awards in 1999.

I actually enjoyed the style more than the content, because Lethem writes as Lionel, suffering from Tourette's syndrome, and yet it's an absolute delight to follow his thought processes so directly linked to his actions and (spontaneous) utteranc
...more
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Steve Buscemi or Frank Muller 1 17 May 29, 2014 04:46PM  
New Lethem story in this week's New Yorker 3 53 Apr 20, 2014 09:01AM  
If you liked this.... 14 135 May 19, 2013 05:24PM  
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Jonathan Allen Lethem (born February 19, 1964) is an American novelist, essayist and short story writer.

His first novel, Gun, with Occasional Music, a genre work that mixed elements of science fiction and detective fiction, was published in 1994. It was followed by three more science fiction novels. In 1999, Lethem published Motherless Brooklyn, a National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel t
...more
More about Jonathan Lethem...
The Fortress of Solitude Gun, With Occasional Music Chronic City As She Climbed across the Table You Don't Love Me Yet

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“Insomnia is a variant of Tourette's--the waking brain races, sampling the world after the world has turned away, touching it everywhere, refusing to settle, to join the collective nod. The insomniac brain is a sort of conspiracy theorist as well, believing too much in its own paranoiac importance--as though if it were to blink, then doze, the world might be overrun by some encroaching calamity, which its obsessive musings are somehow fending off.” 169 likes
“Someday I would change my name to Shut Up and save everybody a lot of time.” 18 likes
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