Book Review: Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road

Michael Chabon is one of those names that I scan bookshelves for, all on the basis of one book: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. It was a big, substantial novel with ideas and history, whimsy and sadness, and unforgettable characters. And a comic-book theme: as a former collector, I loved it.

I think I read Mysteries of Pittsburgh, which was OK but didn’t stay with me. So, here’s another try – I found it on the shelves of a used bookshop, and the description of a swashbuckling adventure tale in A.D. 950 sounded fun. I like the fantasy genre. As well, it’s a thin book, and I felt like reading something light.

What struck me most of all was its mixture of readability and dense poetry: fifteen short chapters of a coherent adventure with requisite peaks and valleys and cliff-hanging moments, with a narrative drive supplied as much by the wonderful characters as the action. And yet, his prose is lyrical, precise and condensed – it felt as if in a different order than most prose I’ve read lately, and I had to concentrate on the words, slow down to make sure I’d caught every bit of meaning. It’s also a treat that such skill is applied to humour – various exchanges of insults, or even over-the-top descriptions of battle and slaughter, made me laugh out of loud.

There’s an odd afterword which usefully describes some of his research and writing process but has a strange defensive and apologetic section of how a serious writer of literary fiction came to write comic adventure. I’d say writing like this needs no explanation.


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