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This is a good book, no doubt about it. The narrator is good too. This being said there were two things that stopped me from enjoying it, unlike Chabon’s other books. The first is the ‘disclaimer’; Chabon writes something along the lines of ‘this story is true except where the truth was less interesting’. This book blurs the line between fact and fantasy, and so it’s difficult to really take it seriously. The stories of his grandfather, grandmother, uncle etc are really profound and significant but I can’t help thinking I was being manipulated as they could have been wild fabrications! The second issue is that the author and the narrator allow the no nonsense, matter of fact attitude of the protagonist, being the grandfather, to affect the character and dialogue of every individual in the book. In fact, every character appears as manifestation of the grandfather, himself and no one has their own identity. I don’t imagine this was intentional but if it were, and we were dealing with the memory of a dying man and not hearing the story through him it might make sense, but this story is told by Chabon who is not a tough taking, no nonsense sort by any means. The book has no nuance, it’s a masculine and measured, never deviating from a method of story telling that becomes pretty taxing nearing the middle of the book.
This biography of Michael Chabon's 'grandfather' is a stunning piece of whimsy, the tale of a cranky, old genius that grips and surprises throughout. It is a long, meandering novel masquerading as a memoir, flitting around time and place so that the chapters don't follow consecutively and it's only gradually that we build up a picture of the narrator's family history via the stories told to him by his grandfather.
Despite the fragmented narrative and some aspects considered to be fictional truth, there's real heart and soul here which lifts this novel beyond merely the clever construction, giving it a haunting, poignant undertone.
For me the book is less about the grandfather, but the beautiful, damaged woman with whom he falls in love with. Profoundly affected by her experiences during the Second World War, the narrator's grandmother tells stories to shore up her own sense of self and to hold herself together in the wake of trauma.
While at times it can seem tedious, the author's writing carries it through, moving effortlessly from rambunctious humour to distressing scenes. It is a meditation on families and what constitutes a family when it's not based on blood, histories and accurate memories. A big-hearted and beautifully-written novel.
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Chabon's beautiful phasing, humorously realised reflective characters, and boy's own adventure stories are a delight