Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

I haven't actually finished this, in fact I am up about a quarter of a way through the 656 pages, but it's a ripper. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001, so its not the latest thing. But I only found out about Michael Chabon a few weeks ago, so I'm catching up as fast as I can.

I started with his novella called The Final Solution, set in a village in wartime England. A Jewish schoolboy refugee has a parrot who sings in German, with a hauntingly beautiful voice. Apart from that the parrot only recites very long strings of German numbers. A man is murdered and the parrot disappears. In the village happens to live a retired detective, who is unnamed but is obviously Sherlock Holmes. He undertakes to find the parrot, and offers to pass on anything he may find out about the murder along the way. The ending, which promised to chill me to the bone, left me feeling like I had missed something, but I loved the writing style.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is set (in the beginning) in 1939 in New York, in the fledgling world of comic books, and Jewish emigrés. The writing is marvellous, the characters are wonderful, and the situations are ingenious. I am moved to quote one part where we meet a minor character, Sheldon Anapol, for the first time. He is Sammy's boss, the owner of Empire Novelty Company, manufacturers of x-ray specs, joke wigs and wind-up teeth.

'So talk,' said Anapol. He was wearing, as usual at this early hour, only socks, garters, and a pair of brightly patterned boxer shorts wide enough to qualify, Sammy thought, as a mural. He was bent over a tiny sink at the back of his office, shaving his face. He had been up, as very morning, since before dawn, settling on a move in one of the chess games he played by mail with men in Cincinatti, Fresno, and Zagreb; writing to other solitary lovers of Syzmanowski whom he had organized into an international appreciation society; penning ill-concealed threats to particularly recalcitrant debtors in his creaky, vivid, half-grammatical prose in which there were hints of Jehovah and George Raft; and composing his daily letter to Maura Zell, his mistress, who was a chorine in the road company of Pearls of Broadway. He always waited until eight o'clock to begin his toilet, and seemed to set great store in the effect his half-naked imperial person had on his employees as they filed in for work. 'What's this idea of yours?'

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