Review: Hello Goodbye Hello

Hello Goodbye Hello is a unique bit of fun by Craig Brown.  The idea is simple and intriguing: start with the unlikely meeting of two well known people and tell that story, then follow one of them to another meeting and describe that, then follow the new one to another meeting, and so on.  And make a circle.  It feels like a party game, and reading Hello Goodbye Hello gives that feeling of improvisation and fun.

Brown makes a couple choices that make the whole thing more compelling.  He keeps each anecdote short, which keeps the players from wearing out their welcome.  He also allows himself a fair amount of leeway.  Some of the stories are about famous people in their youth who are literally dumbstruck by encountering someone more famous.  It’s to his credit that Brown can usually make even these glancing collisions interesting.

Of course not all of these meetings are interesting.  Over the course of the book he spans English nobility, Russian composers, American movie idols, and Mark Twain. It’s a lot of ground to cover, and there were some dry stretches for me.  It doesn’t help that Brown is British, and some of the folks he includes were completely unknown to me, though from context well known in Britain.

Overall, the book keeps the feel of an interesting dinner party where everyone seems to have an interesting story to tell.  Even the tales that are about people you’ve never heard of are told with style.  There are plenty of new things to hear, even if they’re not all about the stars of the anecdotes.


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