The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon is one of those rare books that I have fallen totally, completely, head-over-heels in love with. I have been so wrapped up in the story that reading it has filled literally every spare moment over the last few days. In fact, having finished the book and wondered what to read next, I’ve gone back to page one and started again – only the second book ever to have that effect upon me.

This book slipped into my life quite by chance; last summer I bought some cheap paperbacks from The Book People and it was bundled into a collection of ‘prize-winning novels’ with some others that I wanted. I’d never heard of it, but it had won a Pulitzer Prize, so obviously other people had both noticed and admired it. I formed a vague intention to read it at some point, but it took last month’s book binge to make me go and fetch it from the bookcase.

Anyway, enough of this waffling, what is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay about? It tells the story of two cousins: Sam Clay and Joe Kavalier. Sam was born and brought up in Brooklyn, Joe arrives in Sam’s life after escaping from occupied Prague. Together they create The Escapist, a best-selling superhero who fights for freedom and liberates the oppressed. The story is set against the background of the developing Second World War and Joe’s desperation to help his family to escape from Prague.

As the story unfolds we are also taken on a journey through the history of comics. Chabon mixes reality with fiction with the most amazing ease, so that real cartoonists and artists appear from time to time as supporting characters. The book also features footnotes, all of which purport to refer to real events (they don’t of course, but I like the way that they help to entangle reality with the fictional narrative).

The real appeal of this book lies in the way that the main characters are so convincing and engaging. They could very easily have been just another pair of stereotypes: the extroverted, smart talking New York wise guy and his more introverted but talented partner. Chabon’s skill as a writer makes them very real and believable, which is what caused me to become so totally immersed in the world of Kavalier and Clay.

I really liked the distinctive style of the book, Chabon uses very eloquent language (often so good that I drove Mr TLC mad reading little snippets out loud for his appreciation) without being pretentious. The book is paced in an interesting way – we spend time getting to know the characters and some parts of the story are told in great detail, but some periods of time are missed out, so starting a new chapter or section we might find that we have suddenly moved forward, somewhat like a change of scene in a film. At times characters look back and reflect on past events, at others we are given clear hints about what is still to come.

This is a book that could have been written especially for me. As a child I loved comics, but they slipped quietly out of my life until recently. I spent last summer on a bit of a comics bender: reading my way through countless comic books (almost all of them French) and books about comic books – in both French and English. I even went on a little pilgrimage by taking a holiday in Angouleme, which was conveniently hosting two stages of the Tour de France, so I was able to indulge my love of cycling and of comics by visiting the Centre de la BD et de l’Image (rough translation: Comics Museum) and seeing the famous murals whilst we were there.

All of which makes me wonder: why on earth didn’t I pick this book up to read it last summer? It would have fitted perfectly into my comics binge. I suppose I was judging the book by it’s cover – my copy has an escapologist on the cover. I glanced at it and shelved it without reading the blurb on the jacket, so I had no idea what it was about. I suspect that if I had ended up with one of the editions with a more nostalgic cover, then I would have been enjoying this much sooner!

2 comments to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

  • I loved this book and yet, like you, it sat on my self for ages until I finally picked it up. I followed it up with “Wonder Boys” which I liked a lot more after finishing it – does that make sense?

    Last Friday I picked up “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union”. I’ll let you know how that goes when I get round to it – which will be a lot quicker than the time spent before picking up K&C.

    Oh, my review was at http://1to3.typepad.com/first_to_third/2007/07/the-amazing-adv.html if you are interested.

  • Having spent a year not reading this book (and now re-reading it immediately I’ve finished!) I sense my good intentions slipping away.

    Good intentions: no more new books until I’ve read some of the very large pile of unread books that I seem to have collected.

    …but I now reeeaaally want to read more by Michael Chabon. There’s even an Escapist comic book series, surely that doesn’t count as “no more books”.

    Now, off to post a belated comment over here.

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