Title: Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Café: A Novel
Author: M. Henderson Ellis
Format: Paperback and eBook
Publisher: New Europe Books
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss
Genre: Literary Fiction / Satire
Purchase Now: Amazon
About the Book:
Not long ago, John Shirting–quiet young Chicagoan, wizard of self-medication–held down a beloved job as a barista at Capo Coffee Family, a coffee chain and global business powerhouse. When he is deemed “too passionate” about his job, he is let go. Shirting makes it his mission to return to the frothy Capo’s fold by singlehandedly breaking into a new market and making freshly post-communist Prague safe for free-market capitalism. Unfortunately, his college nemesis, Theodore Mizen, a certified socialist, has also moved there, and is determined to reverse the Velvet Revolution, one folk song at a time. After Shirting experiences the loss of his sole “new-hire” — a sad, arcade game-obsessed prostitute — it is not long before his grasp on his mission and, indeed, his sanity, comes undone, leaving him at the mercy of two-bit Mafiosi, a pair of Golem trackers, and his own disgruntled phantom.
A dazzling combination of everything is Illuminated and Don Quixote, with a jigger of Confederacy of Dunces, and Lord of the Barnyard, Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Café is the first novel to so exquisitely capture the ambiance of expat Prague. Poised to be an underground classic, it asks: what does it mean to be sane in a fast-changing world?
Set in 1990’s Prague and delivered with a fast-paced over caffeinated energy, a touch of whimsy and a sense of humor that ranges from dark to pointedly satirical M. Henderson Ellis has created a book that amuses as it confuses, only to right one upturned idea as it turns another on its side. So entertaining: I picked it up to read expecting to read for a couple of hours, and finished way past my bedtime, never once realizing how late it was.
John Shirting is a recently arrived ex-pat who forms the narrative for the story: his wildly imaginative viewpoint seems to revel in the heady optimism of the capitalist boom in Prague, where nothing seems too far-fetched or impossible. Narration is lovely and completely eloquent, with no wasted words or thoughts. Beneath the almost manic optimism displayed by John is his essential “out of place” sense, his homesickness and the underlying jaded eye of one who has seen the rise and fall of dreams.
The secondary cast of characters are as well portrayed and individualistic as one could hope for: and Prague itself is a wonderful character as her back streets and alleys are described with as much care as her postcard perfect scenes. Bedlam is never really at bay for long, in fact Shirting seems to revel in the unknown twists and turns, and enjoy the tension that removes his thoughts from the more mundane theme of home and ‘otherness’ that would be expected from the mind of an ex-pat.
I received an eBook from the publisher via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.