Ahhh, jeez. I’ve read enough positive reviews for this book to know that a lot of you really like it, and some of you lurve it, so I’ve built myself a happy little igloo and I’m not coming out until you decide that you really quite like me enough to forgive me. Because I hated it. And there were so many pages that I dog-eared, and SO many notes with swears in them that I made in my notebook, but one of my main beefs with this book was shittiness+length, so I’m going to try to keep this review down to size.
I’m not even going to…ok, I am. Young girl steals books, lives in Germany during WWII, hides a Jew in her basement, Death is the narrator. There. Now you know everything you need to know, and I can get on with it.
First thing: too many damn words. This is the opposite of tight, clever prose. This is…I don’t know…loose, diarrhea prose. Everything Zusak thought, he wrote down, and he did it using the most words possible. That’s why the book is 550 pages long, and that’s why I’m so angry. Serious. You read a short, crappy book, and you’re all ‘Well, won’t do that again.’ You read a long, crappy book and MAN! That’s hours of my life down the drain. I know, my own fault. Learn to put a book down unfinished. But so many words could have been edited out, and the book wouldn’t have lost a thing.
Like, after you’ve mentioned someones customary looks or trademark expressions two or three or dozens of times, there’s no reason to keep prefacing them like that. We get it. The old woman calls everyone an asshole. There’s no need for this: ‘Mama only handed him one of her trademark looks of disgust, followed by the most common ration of her vocabulary’ (which is, incidentally, followed immediately with ‘Liesel swapped a customary wink with her papa’…I wish I were joking).
And then everything has this tremendous set-up. Like, everything. Which, necessarily, leads to dozens of let-downs, since not everything (or even most things) are important enough to set them up with a whole paragraph. Like, this old man is chasing Liesel and her friend and calling them names, and Zusak goes on about how the man’s abuse got worse and worse, until he hollers, ‘I’ve never seen you before!’ I know, zzzzzzzzzzzing, right?
And then he’ll say things like ‘As always, they were clapped’ or ‘He laughed – a ten-year-old, smugness laughter.’ Hhhhwhat? Do you not speak-a de Eengleesh? And I kind of figured out after a while that that’s just his style, but it got old quick.
As did the constant animation of inanimate things. And the constant tangiblization of intangible things. Things like breath, or colors, or WORDS! Like: ‘When Liesel left that day, she said something with great uneasiness. In translation, two words were struggled with, carried on her shoulder, and dropped as a bungling pair at Ilsa Hermann’s feet. They fell off sideways as the girl veered with them and could no longer sustain their weight. Together, they sat on the floor, large and loud and clumsy.’ And this might be fine if this sort of thing happened once or twice, but words never do anything besides struggle or creep or limp for a few sentences which, again, too many words. And this is nearly 150 pages into the book, so you’re used to the relentless build up, and you should have caught on by now that Zusak does this for every third or fourth utterance, so when the two words in question are just ‘I’m sorry,’ you aren’t all, Dude! I knew she was going to say that, like, four paragraphs ago!!! Why the hype!!!! Because by now you’re deadened to the usual methods of stressing an event. Like the whole, long-paragraph-followed-by-a-single-impactful-sentence?
You can’t do it for every paragraph.
You sure can’t do it without putting an intervening long paragraph in, because it loses its impact entirely.
See what I mean?
This is not interesting.
And then everything was qualified, like, a billion times, which not only served to make the writing weaker, but also resulted in such contradictory messes as this: ‘I’m compelled to continue on, because although it’s not true for every person on earth, it’s true for the vast majority – that death waits for no man – and if he does, he doesn’t usually wait for very long.’ So…death waits for some people, but not most people, but no people, but not for very long for those people. Hwaaa?
Did I mention that Death is the narrator? Great idea, right? Someone said of Philip Roth that he manages to erase all space between reader and narrator. Narrator Death? Dude puts football fields between you and the events. You just go ahead and try to feel something when your narrator is the freakin’ Grim Reaper. I mean, it could have worked great, but it didn’t. And all I kept hearing in reviews was that Death was so funny. ‘Grim, darkly consoling humor,’ Time says. I found no grim humor. There was plenty of dad-humor, though. Death is funny like my dad is funny, in that he’s not.
My only favorite bit was where he describes this one general, or whatever, performing ‘what is called a Schreierie – a consummate exhibition of passionate shouting’ and I was all, I do that all the time! Really, that’s all I got for you. The plot was boring and went on and on for ages, and I just didn’t care. I’m going to call this J. Picoult Syndrome (JPS), where anything written about anything serious is automatic awesomeness. YOU CANNOT HANG SHIT ON THE HOLOCAUST AND CALL IT ART!
One caterpillar for the schreierie, and one because I really liked the way this book felt in my hands, paper-wise.
PS. I’m really very sorry about all of this. I know some of you love this book, and I still love you very much and don’t actually think worse of you for it, because I LOVE THE SHOPAHOLIC BOOKS! There, now you know. I read chick lit when no one is watching. Also, I eat, like, four bags of Kettle Corn a day. Even stevens?
Also, Charley, I will try I Am the Messenger and I will try to forget about this book both so that I can read IATM untainted, and so that my brains don’t boil with rage.