Motherless Brooklyn
Jonathan Lethem
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Motherless Brooklyn

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  19,839 ratings  ·  1,751 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
Published (first published January 1st 1999)
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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
Robert Farwell
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
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
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
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

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
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
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
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
Jul 06, 2008 Alison rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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 mix words in his head and regurgitate them in order to sort through the chaos that is everday life for a hood in...more
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
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
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
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
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
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
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

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
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
Totally original. Johnathan Lethem is a language rock star.
A modern noir with the hook that its narrator has Tourette's, Motherles Brooklyn is terrifically entertaining all the way through. It's just a good time. It feels smaller than my other Lethem, The Fortress of Solitude, which keeps it from a five-star rating for me, but you're certainly not going to have a bad time.

Tourette's is on every page, and while it all feels like Lethem did a lot of research and is fairly depicting it, it also feels overwhelming - so much so that at one point one gets the...more
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
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
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
Overall, I don't think there was anything BAD about this book. But I didn't find it to be great either. While I think the writer cleverly writes for Lionel as if Lionel were really talking/thinking, I find that highlighting the Tourettes takes away from the story line, which I found totally lacking. So, I guess I'm not sure if this was a murder mystery about a guy who had Tourettes, or a book about a guy who has Tourettes, but happens to be involved in a murder mystery. And that just really bugg...more
Sabra Embury
Dec 18, 2011 Sabra Embury rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like Brooklyn
It doesn't look it, but Motherless Brooklyn is a swift trip into the multi-faceted borough which has been made over from a mugger's playground, to a hipster's paradise in the last ten years (thanks to Giuliani). It's swiftness is derived by Lethem's keen goading of narrative. The maestro's pacing is also kept in check, due to well placed fermatas taking shape in rows of triple asterisks.

It's obvious Lethem's a master of language, more than say: style, or dialogue; he's also master of control. T...more
dave eck
This is a book that Slavoj Zizek, in my little imagined world, wishes he had written, wishes each time he rereads it in obsessive delight. Motherless Brooklyn entails the little imagined world of Lionel Essrog, a tourettic orphan become tourettic detective. Essrog isn't your classic hero, nor is he a pitiful anti-hero.

As a first-person narrative, Motherless Brooklyn throws its story at you as you walk into the story with Essrog's mouth full of a greasy White Castle burger. Dietary as well as po...more
Oh, Jonathan Lethem. I could see how that plot was going to unfold from a mile away. Do you think I missed my calling as a police detective? I think I've just seen too many episodes of Law & Order (et. al.) in my day. I was fond of Lionel, though.
I think from now, I'm going to take the term "genre-bending" to be a warning. It always feels more like it turns out to be a nicer term for "slumming". Maybe it's just me.

While MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN is well-written and starts strong, when it is forced to finish the mystery that is supposed to drive the story, it really falls into pretty ordinary territory. It is not as easy to write a compelling mystery as it looks. It can't just be clever. It has to be about something.

This will sound far more ins...more
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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.” 156 likes
“Someday I would change my name to Shut Up and save everybody a lot of time.” 20 likes
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