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Motherless Brooklyn

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  28,902 ratings  ·  2,461 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 the most 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 c ...more
Paperback, 311 pages
Published October 24th 2000 by Vintage (first published 1999)
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Bartosz Suchodolski In my opinion not very much, the intrigue is not very sophisticated and the plot is rather not complex. Of course that does not make this a bad book.…moreIn my opinion not very much, the intrigue is not very sophisticated and the plot is rather not complex. Of course that does not make this a bad book. It just got its strengths somewhere else.(less)
Beth Yes. I taught high school for many years, so I have some idea about what high schoolers read.
I am not sure most high schoolers would embrace the…more
Yes. I taught high school for many years, so I have some idea about what high schoolers read.
I am not sure most high schoolers would embrace the book because most will not have a frame of reference for the “hard-boiled detective” genre. Also, some of the prose is very “dense” and I am not sure students will have the patience to slow down, re-read, and work to absorb and understand.

If you have concerns about adult content, there is one scene involving sexual intimacy.(less)

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Average rating 3.91  · 
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 ·  28,902 ratings  ·  2,461 reviews

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Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What is it about Brooklyn? A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Joe Pitt in Half the Blood of Brooklyn. Last Exit to Brooklyn. Not to mention a hundred different movies. Something there must spark the imagination, get at the essence of life.

Motherless Brooklyn is one of the most solidly crafted books I've read this year. Since it's the end of February that may not sound like much, so I'll throw in December and November of 2017 as well. Really, it was just so pleasant to trust in Lethem, with page after page doing fascinating things. I was d/>Motherless
Kevin Kelsey
Dec 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
“In detective stories things are always always, the detective casting his exhausted, caustic gaze over the corrupted permanence of everything and thrilling you with his sweetly savage generalizations. This or that runs deep or true to form, is invariable, exemplary. Oh sure. Seen it before, will see it again. Trust me on this one.

Assertions and generalizations are, of course, a version of Tourette’s. A way of touching the world, handling it, covering it with confirming language.”

This was a very tightly
Oct 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Elyse Walters
Mar 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
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*!

Steven Godin
Aug 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: america, fiction

"Ziggedy Zendoodah!"

This rip-roaring take on the classic detective story features an unlikely hero, a gumshoe with Tourette's syndrome, Lionel Essrog, AKA - 'The Human Freakshow', an intellectually sensitive type, with a bad case of Tourette's. Bristling with odd habits and compulsions, his mind continuously revolting against him in lurid outbursts of strange verbiage. He is compelled to snap, count, bark, grunt, tap and make strange Vocalizations at inopportune mome
Mar 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
“Tourette's is just one big lifetime of tag, really. The world (or my brain---same thing) appoints me it, again and again. So I tag back. Can it do otherwise? If you've ever been it you know the answer.”
― Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn


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
Julie Ehlers
Have you read Motherless Brooklyn yet? If not, what are you waiting for? I mean, sure, the idea of an orphaned private detective with Tourette's Syndrome sounded a little strange to me too, possibly even depressing, but as it turns out this novel is anything but depressing. It's hilarious! And exciting! The book begins with a car chase, which is exactly the sort of thing that seems like a terrible idea to me, but I was riveted and that feeling didn't let up. The aforementioned orphaned detective is one ...more
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
Dec 14, 2009 rated it it was ok
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 wife,
Jan 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
“Prince's music calmed me as much as masturbation or a cheeseburger.”
Lionel Essrog, protagonist in Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn

Lethem's 1999 literary detective novel set in Brooklyn was a fun read, much more layered and satisfying than the hard-boiled detective novels. The protagonist Lionel Essrog grew up an orphan and was nicknamed "The Human Freakshow" due to his Tourette syndrome. In lesser hands, these verbal tics could
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
Jun 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Lethem is a master at hip, funny, serious, genre mash-up fiction, and this (IMHO) is his best so far. It's a soft-hearted, hard-boiled, Zen-infused, satirical noir, narrated by a small-time detective with Tourette's. Thankfully this doesn't come across as gimmicky, which it would in less capable hands. The narrator, Lionel Essrog (now there's a Pynchonesque name), uses his condition to think about, well, language itself, as his outbursts often riff on what they're supposed to convey. Sure, the p ...more
Jan Rice
Jan 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing

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,
Jun 12, 2009 rated it really liked it

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 mention Lionel has To
Mar 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 ge
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
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 or carrying on. ...more
Mattia Ravasi
Aug 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
#3 in my Top 20 Books I Read in 2015:

Long story short: possibly the best detective novel ever written, certainly one of the best novels of the last twenty years. A beautifully orchestrated hard-boliled story that smells of pavement, incense and White Castle burgers, one that manages to be mercilessly real, breath-takingly beautiful and deeply deeply emotional. And don't make me start on the narrator because that's pure genius.
Aug 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Dave Cullen
Dec 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of my four favorite books written in my adult lifetime--joining Jesus' Son, A Visit from the Goon Squad and A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories.

The writing is extraordinary, and something I aspire to. It's all so vivid, and the details capture little insights about this world and our world every other sentence. Just amazing.

Also, the story was thoroughly captivating--quite the page-turner.

The characters were really wonderful, too. I have to admit that when he introduced the na
Gary  the Bookworm
Oct 25, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Sep 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
"eat shit, dickyweed"
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
David Lentz
Jun 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Jan 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read05
Seriously, if you haven't yet read anything by Lethem, do it!  This book is about a detective with Tourette's, and the writing is hysterical.  It would be a normal mystery except for the internal (and external) dialogue of the character, putting in ridiculous words like EATMEBAILEY in the middle of sentences. 
Nov 01, 2011 rated it liked it
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 To
Jonathan Peto
Mar 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 2016-reads
Lionel Essrog is one of the most endearing, sympathetic, and intriguing characters I've come across in a novel. Lionel is presumed by many to be less than bright simply because he has Tourette's syndrome, but oh, there is so much going on in Lionel's head. Despite his difficulties in socializing and conversing, Lionel becomes an unlikely detective in this mystery plot.

Motherless Brooklyn is more than a mystery novel, though. It's also the story of how a man unravels the truth about what has bee
Sep 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Golden Dagger winners seldom disappoint and Motherless Brooklyn won't break this trend. It's an unique spin on the PI genre with the detective Lionel Essrog suffering from Tourette syndrome. A gimmicky idea no doubt but one that is executed nearly flawlessly. I knew very little about Tourette and Lethem does a commendable job of putting the reader in Lionel's shoes.

Tourette comes with a manic OCD that gives Lionel more quirks and tics that an amateur actor trying their hand at method for the
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Screen & Page: Motherless Brooklyn 1 1 Sep 28, 2019 12:52PM  
Brooklyn Bookworms!: 'Motherless Brooklyn' 1 5 Jan 22, 2019 03:28PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Wrong publisher 2 14 Sep 16, 2016 05:18PM  
Steve Buscemi or Frank Muller 1 23 May 29, 2014 04:46PM  
New Lethem story in this week's New Yorker 3 54 Apr 20, 2014 09:01AM  
If you liked this.... 14 149 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-win
“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.” 210 likes
“Someday I'd change my name to Shut Up and save everybody a lot of time.” 24 likes
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