Martin Sproale is a mild, conventional assistant postmaster in his mid-thirties living in an English coastal town. The only exceptional thing abbot this model of small-town conformity is his passionate obsession with the life, work and personality of Ernest Hemingway. This is confined harmlessly enough to an encyclopedia knowledge of everything about the man and to loving in a room surrounded by Hemingway memorabilia.
But when an ambitious young outsider, Nick Marshall, is appointed postmaster over Martin’s head and starts to transform the friendly, old-fashioned local post office for privatization and the high tech challenges of the twenty-first century, Martin is faced with a choice – to be his usual agreeable self and go along with the drastic changes, or to be like his hero and fight for what he believes in.
Egged on by an American scholar, Ruth Kohler, who has rented a cottage in the area to complete a book on Hemingway, Martin allows his obsession to take over mare and more of his life, culminating in a final, reckless, Hemingwayesque act of revenge against the ruthless modernizers.
Michael Palin’s first novel, wry and devastating by turns, offers an engaging portrait of a small-town community confronting the men in suits and facing the future with some bafflement and trepidation.