Top critical review
4 people found this helpful
An adult 'Boy's own' adventure
on 13 January 2009
A strange little book this. Looks like a 1950's boy's own adventure with it's, I have to say, rather charming illustrations. The story too could easily be a childrens story. Two mismatched friends hustling a living on the open road and then getting dragged into a story of evil rulers, elephants and Vikings!
It is the relationship between the two jewish friends, one a huge black war veteran and the other a skinny young medical practioner with a love of hats, that is the heart and soul of the book. A kind of dark ages odd couple! They argue and fight but then risk everything to save each others lives. Chabon achieves that rare quality of enriching the charactors with genuine individual personality without having to devote huge passages of text to describing their emotions, feelings and history. Rather we get to know and love them through the witty dialogue.
I compared the book to a boy's own adventure and it is except the writing style is completely adult. Chabon, in this story at least, does test us with a few tortuous sentences in which actions are described alongside the motivation of the character involved and the immediate environment in which the action takes place. He likes to spare the full stop in favour of the comma. This is a book to read when you are mentally alert. There are adult themes too, violence and rape feature though Chabon is far from graphic.
I do have a bit of a beef with the book. It is just 200 pages long (of widely spaced medium text) including illustrations. The book also has several pages of blank paper and a 5 page 'afterword' by the author so my essential feeling was that it was a short story packaged and more importantly, priced! as a novel. Having paid full cover price for it I did feel a bit cheated.
That said I found the story, the illustrations and particularly the lead characters utterly engaging and were it not for the above the book would have scored a comfortable 4 star rating.