Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Read: The Messenger

Unfortunately, though the Leaflocker has not been busily producing content for the last few months, we have also not been filling that time with reading, so I'm afraid that it will take us very little time indeed to work our way through the piles of books consumed since March. In fact, once this review is over, that'll be it, back to square one, so it may be a little while until our next book gets finished unless I resort to reading either novellas or comic books.

On first being lent Markus Zusak's The Messenger, my assumption was that this was the new novel of the award-winning author of The Book Thief, which I'd enjoyed quite a lot a number of years ago. Now normally the cynic in me would say that this was the book that he really wanted to write but he wrote The Book Thief first because writing a book about Jews in the Holocaust is a good way to make yourself famous, but that would be extremely unfair for two obvious reasons (if not many more). Firstly, it turned out that it was actually his first novel, and then on further research it turned out that it was actually his fourth one, but still written and published before the Book Thief, and secondly it's just a demeaning thing to say about the Book Thief, a heartbreakingly beautiful book about which I will hear no criticism.

Thus, I went into this book expecting a lot, and looking forward to again experiencing the slightly odd way that Markus Zusak comes at telling a story from an unusual direction, looking for the signs of an author that would just a couple of years after this go on to write The Book Thief, and I was not at all disappointed. The Messenger tells the strange story of Ed Kennedy, a taxi-driver who gets a strange playing card in the mail and ends up trying to save the lives and make a difference in the people around him. 

The pace is slow at first, as we were eased into the story, but the gentle conversational tone is a pleasure to read (very Australian) and the interaction of the characters, who are all fundamentally genuine and decent people (some would label them superficial), particularly in little personal conversations with Ed, is a real joy. It shares the informality of The Yiddish Policemen's Union that I so enjoyed reading last year, so I must have a soft spot for this kind of story.

Page 123:
It's the truth. I don't know. My jeans feel a thousand years old as they wrap around my legs. Almost like a blue-bottle. My shirt burns me cold. My jacket scrapes at my arms, my hair is frayed, and my eyes feel shot with blood. And I still don't know what day it is.
Just Ed.
I turn.
Just Ed walks on.
Just Ed walks fast.
He begins at attempt at a run.
But he trips.

Well, that's the other sort of style in the book, the attempt to be 'literary and serious' that I found a little too forced. It works well, don't get me wrong, but it feels a little too put on to be taken seriously, the one thing that puts The Messenger down a peg on my personal rating system compared to The Book Thief. But I did enjoy the conversational tone too.

There is, as with all books that are trying to be literature, as well as all good mystery stories, (which this book most definitely is) a big twist ending, which I failed to guess although with a couple of chapters to go I was just a hair's-breadth from the right answer. I found it charming, but I suspect that it was supposed to be a 'Whoa' moment. This feeling was reinforced by the 'reading notes' in the back, which are apparently widely used (I recently discovered that I have a friend who studied it for year Twelve English), and it much be a handy tool for school classes and book groups to have the questions all written out already, even if they are a little on the side of 'So class, how clever do you think the author is on a scale of 9 to 10'.

Overall, I'd recommend this book, not as much as I'd recommend The Book Thief, but still more than any other book that I've read in recent times. I don't know how well-known Murkus Zusak is outside of the country, but I should note for my American audience that this one is called I Am The Messenger in the US, and that at the prices that you guys get away with buying new books for I see no reason why you shouldn't get yourselves a copy. For my Australian readers, this is a good book by an Australian author who really is something special, and you should at least borrow it from your local library or something, as I can't lend you this copy because it needs to go back to its owner (who knowing my penchant for books has carefully pencilled her name onto the front page).

Reading Progress:
Number of Books read: 10
Australian dividend: 3.045
Science Fiction dividend: 2.5
Fantasy dividend: 3.5
Biography dividend: 2.5
Literary dividend: 1
Mystery dividend: 1.5

For those of you wondering how the dividends work, they're merely the overall number of books in each category (decided mostly by whim), which when divided by the total number of books read would yield that category's quotient (I was using the wrong terminology earlier and it was bothering some nice and helpful readers. In other words, 3.5 of the 10 books read so far have been loosely categorised as fantasy.

Next Up: Who knows? Probably not Neuromancer.

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