Who is Bailey?
We'll never know. All we know is that Lionel Essrog can't help shouting "EatmeBailey" at inopportune moments. And much else besides. Essrog, you see, has Tourette's Syndrome. And is a wannabe detective.
It takes some monumental chutzpah to make your protagonist a wannabe detective with Tourette's, but that's what Jonathan Lethem has done in Motherless Brooklyn, and he pulls it off. There's a lot to like in the book -- not least the remark that gives the book its title -- and I feel I gained some insight into just what life might be like for people with really obsessive compulsions. The plot, funnily enough for a kind of modern noir, is not all that compelling. Even the final "I expect you're wondering why I've asked you all to join me in the library" scene, which takes place on the windswept Maine coast, doesn't really answer all the questions, but it doesn't really matter. The story romps along entirely satisfactorily, wondering how Essrog will deal with his freakishness and solve the mysteries. Which in the end he does. All except Bailey's identity.
There's been talk of a film for more than a decade, to be directed by and star Edward Norton, who wants to relocate it in time to the 1950s. It may yet happen. I'm not holding my breath.
My rating: 3.5 out of 5