Book Review – Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

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 St. Vincent’s Home for Boys, he works for small-time mobster Frank Minna’s limo service cum detective agency. When Frank is fatally stabbed, one of Lionel’s colleagues lands in jail, and the other two vie for his position, and the victim’s widow skips town, Lionel’s world is suddenly topsy-turvy, and this outcast who has trouble even conversing attempts to untangle the threads of the case while trying to keep the words straight in his head.


First published in 1999, Motherless Brooklyn is a postmodern homage to classic detective fiction, with its own particular twist thanks to Lionel’s condition. While it stands as a good piece of the genre on its own, what I found most intriguing about the novel, probably unsurprisingly, was Lionel’s Tourette’s. The narrative is told from a first person perspective, so we get a rather deep, personal look at what having the condition is like for him as he moves through life and tries to solve the case while at the mercy of his prominent tics.Read More »