Briefly, this is the story of two con men who get up to trouble somewhere in Europe, some time in the Middle Ages. One is an enormous African armed with a Viking axe; the other a pale skinny Jewish doctor whose only weapons are his surgical instruments. That alone is funny enough.
Observant readers of this blog will note that I am a big fan of Michael Chabon. But even I could barely get through this mess. Chabon likes to be clever, and this time he’s gone too far. This book is so clever it’s unintelligible. I admit to enjoying the first half – it’s witty and original, to say the least. But as you go deeper into the book, the plot gets more convoluted, more and more characters appear, everyone has multiple monikers (based on names, nationalities, and physical traits), place names are unfamiliar (and missing from the map), and it all just falls apart into one big confusing muddle about two thirds of the way through.
I sometimes think that when a writer achieves a certain level of success, his or her editors pull back and give greater creative license. (I don’t know whether or not this is true, it’s just an impression I’ve had with other writers before.) Someone needed to say to Chabon “wait a second, this book is a great idea, but it’s way too confusing as you’ve executed it.” But obviously no one did. I’m saying it now, but it’s a bit late. (Do most of my blog readers know that in my day job I’m an editor? Though unfortunately, not Michael Chabon’s editor.)
(Book 28, 2008)