Saturday, July 04, 2009

Michael Chabon's Sherlock Holmes: Short, Sweet

(Reflection on THE FINAL SOLUTION, novel by Michael Chabon. Harper Collins Perennial, 2004.)

Richly textured, but also light and touching, THE FINAL SOLUTION gives us a nine-year-old Jewish refugee in England, his parrot who does all the talking, and an old, old man who, though never named, is clearly Sherlock Holmes.

The texture is made up of layers. There's a plot: who stole the boy's parrot? Did the Preacher's son kill the Preacher's lodger? Why doesn't the Jewish boy speak? Why does the parrot sing out streams of random German numerals? Each character's own memories and feelings are made real for us, too, each character being a mystery to the others. The old man's well - known past makes background for the whole novel, and provides reflection on age and life's meaning. The World War going on in the background adds a level of suspense and possible connection to the parrot.

Chabon uses a technique of Henry James, simultaneously describing a physical object and using it as a metaphor. For example, the preacher Mr. Panicker drives old Holmes through bombed - out streets of London while ...
contemplating the bombed - out house of his life as a man. His vacant marriage, his useless son, the eclipse of his professional ambitions, these were the shattered windows, the scorched wallpaper, and twisted fauteuils of wreckage; and lying over all of it like a snowfall of ash... was the knowledge of his own godlessness, of his doubt and unbelief. (106)
And, like the city, his faith collapsed at the impact of a bomb, "like all bombs a chance and mindless thing," the murder of his lodger.

For another example, we see the old man Holmes keeping bees, harvesting their honey. This hobby of his tells us about him, and connects to the ordered world of the Victorian Beehive that was now passing with the Blitz.

No parody, no mere pastiche, this very brief novel also holds a surprise at the end. It's not just the solution to the mystery, but emotion and affirmation.

What a sweet, rich, thought - provoking book. It makes me want to read more by Chabon. And it makes me want to dig my collected Conan Doyle out of the basement.


Kevin Hodgson said...

Hi Scott
I seem to remember reading a review of this one, but it fell of my radar screen. Thanks for reminding me.

Susan said...

And there's that wonderful-- and belevable part-- where we get the parrot's own narrative.