A Stranger in the Earth: A Novel

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9780151004089: A Stranger in the Earth: A Novel

Twenty-two-year-old Horace Littlefair travels from the village of Great Much to the big city-London town-if not to make it rich, then at least to make a living working for his great uncle at the local newspaper. Unprepared, underpaid, and overdressed, he is plunged instead into the discombobulating world of love, racism, rabies, blackmail, political intrigue . . . and Scrabble. Horace is out of step with the rest of the world, threatened by impending disaster wherever he turns. But he is helped along by several unlikely and unusual friendships. And so Horace stumbles to adapt, to love, to produce good copy, and to get the scoop behind Barnaby Colefax's campaign to save the urban fox. Marvelous storytelling from a gifted young writer.

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Review:

Ah, the fish-out-of-water tale. In A Stranger in the Earth, debut novelist Marcel Theroux drops fresh-out-of-the-sticks Horace Littlefair into a rough-and-tumble London populated by all manner of dreamers, conspirators, and fakes. Once he's settled and gainfully employed, the eye-opening that Horace experiences constitutes the novel's comic arc. And his job at his uncle's newspaper, The South London Bugle, is a great narrative device, setting up a series of humorous encounters with monomaniacs (and just plain maniacs) of various stripes. There's Trevor Diamond, the animal-rights activist devoted to the preservation of the urban fox. There's Horace's Scrabble-obsessed landlord, Mr. Narayan, who wins his games using words like rewoo. In these and an abundance of other secondary characters, Theroux's craft shines. You can't sum up their relationships in single sentences without sounding like you're setting up a punch line: What do you get when you cross a politician with a lady of the evening? What does an animal-rights activist have to do with a gardening columnist? To Theroux's credit, the answer to both of these questions is: Quite a lot, actually.

What's lost in the shuffle of who-did-what-to-whom is Horace himself, who comes off more as a surrogate reader than a fully realized character. While those called up from central casting steal the show, he remains somewhat muted, more often a witness than a participant in the madness. His moments of self-reflection appropriately encounter this kind of sentiment:

And for all his conscientious interest in the world,
and the business of getting up and going to work each
day, he was still aware of a hollowness inside him
that he couldn't fill up with newsprint.
One of Theroux's great talents lies in the rubbish coming out of his characters' mouths. If you never thought it possible for anyone other than Austin Powers to utter "chap," "bloke," and "bird" within the space of a single paragraph, look no further than A Stranger in the Earth, old boy. At times sounding like a Pygmalion by way of Monty Python with a detour into Lewis Carroll's wonderland, these characters can't seem to shut up, and their voices are music to readers' ears. --Ryan Boudinot

About the Author:

Marcel Theroux was born in Kampala, Uganda, in 1968. He studied English at Cambridge and international relations at Yale. He worked in television news in Boston and New York, and now lives in London.

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