Following the success of Chabon’s previous Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, you can’t help thinking this book is a bit of a disappointment.
The idea is borrowed from classics such as George Eliot’s Silas Marner and Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mr Tom: a lonely, slightly bitter old man – in this instance a retired detective preferring the company of bees to that of his neighbours – has isolated himself from his community and takes pity on a young boy, growing fond of him, and inevitably helping him.
The boy is a mute German refugee found wandering an English village after the Second World War with his parrot, and is taken in by the vicar’s family, whom we find out are also housing the shady Mr Shane, and a couple of scandalous family secrets. When the string-of-numbers-spewing parrot disappears and a body is found, the old detective vows he will catch the parrot thief.
Its fast pace makes it seem as though the novel has been somewhat condensed and the detective-style genre, mixed with Woolf-style flowery language, is a bit of an odd mixture. However it’s a fairly pleasant story, just don’t expect to be gripped with suspense.