Becca's Reviews > The Final Solution

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
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Aug 14, 11

bookshelves: mystery, novella, judaism, historic-fiction
Read from August 07 to 12, 2011 — I own a copy, read count: 1

I'm having trouble coming to terms with this book. Add it on the pile of my ambivalence about Michael Chabon. I think the thing that bugs me the most is the potential for greatness here.

An aging Sherlock Holmes is coming to terms with the fact that he is no longer in his prime and preparing himself for death and battling senility? Awesome, awesome premise. As a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, I usually refuse to touch modern interpretations, because I don't trust authors to give me what Conan Doyle did to make Holmes so compelling. On this aspect, Chabon mostly delivers: he captures Holmes' greatness in his dedication and flashes of brillance and tempers it with his moodiness and self-destructiveness. It's not, by any stretch of the imagination, a Holmes mystery, though, failing in the complete lack of explanation of how Holmes deduces anything (and really, failing as a compelling mystery all over.) Holmes is aging, his brain isn't what it used to be, don't tell us that, show us by having Holmes try his famous Holmes deduction. Show us him missing clues, or thinking slowly, or coming to the wrong conclusions. It's an insanely original, compelling idea, that mostly only reaches it's full potential when Holmes reflects on a post-Blitz London with anger that London still exists in the post-Holmes area and that the Blitz and WWI have allowed it to change and grow into something else. I love the idea of what happens to the characters we love when they move past what they once were.

I think the big reason that this book fails is that while Chabon is good at many things, the novella is not an ideal format. His books become compelling over time, as you become more enmeshed with the characters. Pages give his language room to proliferate and his sprawling sentences feel less suffocating in longer books. There are so many ideas here, ripe for the picking. I can't possible imaging saying to myself "I have an idea for a book that's about an aging Holmes, in WWII, meeting a mute orphan, who will act as his foil, who has a parrot, who knows secret numbers, which may be the key to German codes, prompting discussion of the lengths one will go for national loyalty and exploring the tension between commitment to country and commitment to Jewish orphaned refuges in the middle of the holocaust, while also discussing the morally grey characters who form this boy's foster family and I want this story to be an exemplar of the modern mystery novel. That sounds like it can be done in 170 pages!" Everything loses in the brevity.

What really bothers me is that in the author's note, Chabon writes about the respect he has for "genre novels" and that he wants people who normally don't read genre to pick up this book and it to make them want to go back and read more mysteries. It's insulting to authors who frequently write genre. I agree that genre can be the most compelling form of fiction; it's freed from constraints; it can explore the worlds of possibilities and use that to reflect on the way our world is. This is not a great genre novel, and although Chabon has been a great friend to the melding of genre and literature in Kavalier and Clay (superhero/comic book) and Yiddish Policeman's Union (a much better version of mystery/noir), he should have left this one to the mystery writers.
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08/10/2011 page 74
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