Last weekend, I finished reading Michael Chabon's "The Final Solution", a book I bought almost as a whim. I've written about Chabon a bunch of times before, he's one of my favorite authors, and the book was the last novel of his that I didn't have yet (now the only Chabon book that's missing from my collection is his anthology "A Model World and Other Stories").
I hadn't been reading much since school started. In fact, the last book I finished was Chabon's brilliant sophomore effort, "Wonderboys", the book that was turned into that Michael Douglas movie, and that was back in June. But "The Final Solution" was short enough, and (as his work goes) beautifully-written enough, that I just had to dig in.
The novella is set in England during World War II, in a town just outside London. The story centers around a cranky old man who used to be famous all over Europe for his detective skills, and a mute Jewish boy, a refugee from Austria, whose only friend in the world is a mysterious North African parrot who blurts out mysterious numbers in German. The parrot disappears, and the old man springs back to action to reunite the boy with the last trace of his old life.
The old man, although he remains nameless in the story, is of course the great Sherlock Holmes. The portrait Chabon paints of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous sleuth reminds me of another famous detective, Frank Miller's aged Bruce Wayne in "The Dark Knight Returns". Both have grown to become bitter old men, exhausted of battling their demons, as greatness has passed them by and new eras dawn upon them.
As fans and critics have noted about his stories, Chabon loves his characters, sometimes a little too much, and he always gives them a last chance at redemption. And so, Sherlock's final adventure ends with a touch of tenderness.
Even though the story wasn't as brilliant, as intimate, or as grand as his other work, it resonated with me because some of the first books I ever read were Sherlock Holmes anthologies. I've remained a casual fan over the years, delving more into the Sherlock mythology (he's a crack user!) and even taking a lot of interest in other similar literature from the same era, such as Maurice LeBlanc's French gentleman thief Arsene Lupin.
Stealing away for several hours made me realize how much I miss reading great books and losing my way inside them. It reminds me of what I wrote about Chabon's best book, "The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier and Clay", about a year ago.
I was struck by how much reading a wonderful book is rather like falling in love with a beautiful girl. You can't get enough, and you know inevitably that somewhere along the way you're going to get your heart broken, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, but whether it ends well or it ends badly, you know it's going to stay with you for quite some time, and you could only be so lucky.