Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber

You would think that after months of exclusive study of Shakespeare’s work in college and years of reading I would have a better idea of the Bard himself. As it turned out during reading The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber, I have no clue. And that might be one of the reasons why I liked this book so much.

The Book of Air and Shadows is a great mystery. It starts with Jake Mishkin, an Intellectual Property lawyer hiding in a cottage in some remote place and writing down the events that brought him to the point of fearing for his life. The events were triggered by the letter written in the 17th century by Mr. Bracegirdle. The letter revealed clues to finding a play by Shakespeare that the world didn’t know existed. Of course if found, the treasure would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars and there are many dangerous people who will kill to get it. The narrative switches between Mishkin’s recollections and the following of Albert Crosetti, a movie geek who happened to be the first person to lay his hands on Bracegirdle’s letter. The plot may seem complicated but even as such is easy to follow.

I have to say that The Book of Air and Shadows is no ordinary mystery novel. Gruber is very skilled on many levels as a writer. He created a great, action filled chase after the treasure, enough suspense to really keep the reader guessing till the end and also managed to inject just the right amount of clever humor into the story. I think this was actually a first for me, laughing while reading a mystery. But that’s not all. The characters of Mishkin and Crosetti are surprisingly complex and despite their many flaws I couldn’t help but like them. Both of them were complete laymen in regards to Shakespeare, yet managed to produce a lot of enthusiasm for the legendary writer during the course of action. Which brings me to my opening point. I am not positive about it, but the book certainly made me stop and wonder if Shakespeare’s personal life is indeed a mystery of the literary world. I will certainly do some more digging.

My personal favorite parts of the book were the documents written by Bracegirdle. For a literary geek it was a lot of fun and pleasure to try and read the 17th century language. Gruber managed to make them sound like originals to the point where I actually caught myself several times thinking that I was reading things written by a Shakespeare’s contemporary. I didn’t even mind the deciphering parts, which were crucial to the action but to me sounded like mathematical mumbo-jumbo at first (you can tell I am no fun of mathematics) but then it turned out to be another fun and intriguing side of the novel.

The Book of Air and Shadows is a fantastic read, never boring (Gruber manages to insult everything and everybody, yet because it is so fairly dispensed, I didn’t mind) and quite educational as well. Michael Gruber is a skilled writer, with great sense of humor and I will definitely be reading more of him.

My favorite quote from the book:

"against stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain"