Among contemporary American authors, Michael Chabon enjoys perhaps the most freedom, able to move from highbrow to lowbrow without losing his audience or troubling his publishers. Unlike many novelists he seems able to view each project as completely separate, not worrying that each book should be a significant statement but instead building up an oeuvre that impresses most in its diversity. Recently he even contributed the storyline for Spiderman 2: it’s hard to imagine John Updike or Philip Roth adapting Marvel comics.
Gentlemen of the Road is the second novel Chabon has published this year, following the alternative history novel The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, but it was actually written before his last book and first appeared as a fifteen-part serialisation in the New York Times magazine. One indication that Chabon might be up to mischief in this book is its original title, Jews with Swords; another is that the novel is dedicated to Michael Moorcock, the astonishingly prolific British novelist who also moves freely between genres.
But what kind of mischief? Set in the Caucasus Mountains between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea circa AD 950, the blurb suggests that this novel ‘summons the spirit’ of The Arabian Nights and The Three Musketeers. In 2003, Chabon guest-edited an edition of McSweeney’s, Dave Eggers’s literary magazine,