I ALMOST PUT YOU DOWN THIRTY PAGES IN, weird little novel. But then.
Ok so, Lucy is a young librarian with sort of nothing going on in her life and then she steals a child. It’s sort of more complicated than that, because she secretly suspects his parents of various forms of abuse, including sending him to be de-gayed, but mostly she does it because really, what else is she doing.
And I almost put it down when the narrator implies she’s going to be Nabakovian because she wants to rip him off and doesn’t want you to call her on it. And then she feels free to litter her book with adjectives and evocations. Observe, oh reader, and things of that ilk. But then she either forgot she was doing that or I stopped noticing and started to enjoy her prose despite myself. It’s LISTY in parts!
And then I almost put it down again because I am tired of a lot of tropes. Obviously not ALL tropes, since I still love a good Victorian novel and those are usually trope salads. But when Lorraine the Librarian’s first act on stage is to assert (with implied frown) that Ian is A Gay, and I recognize that I am to take from this that she is A Villain, I am tired. I get it, homophobes are often bad people and bad people are often homophobes, but those aren’t really the most dangerous ones because no one likes them anyways. (The interesting and effective villains are the otherwise likeable homophobes, due to their insidiousness.)
I’m tired of the Disagrees With Right-Thinking People On Topic Of Current Interest as a stand-in for character development (the same thing happens a few pages later when Ian’s mother waltzes in, being both opposed to Harry Potter and attractive [and later thin and it is revealed that she works out a lot, that bitch], ALL OF WHICH lazily signals *baddie*). It’s like making your villain a Nazi and being like There! Automatic loathability!
Not that homophobes and the religious intolerant shouldn’t be soundly kicked (metaphorically, in literature, I mean), it’s just…it’s the easiest, most accessible way to put a black hat on someone. It’s like using red to symbolize love and birds for freedom and Joseph Gordon Levitt for reasons 3-piece suits are great. You’re making a distinction that no rational person would disagree with, and English 101 will tell you that that’s not a strong thesis.
Ok and then Lucy’s best friend is a man in a wheelchair, in order to illustrate how tolerant and non-judgmental she is. And it’s not that you can’t have characters in wheelchairs without them serving some ulterior purpose. QUITE THE OPPOSITE (authors, please start and/or continue doing this). But when the first thing you say about him is that other people (who aren’t tolerant you) are always surprised by how articulately he can speak, I begin to suspect your motives.
Which is all too bad, because I feel like The Borrower is saying something clever about the Inherent Wrongness of Imposing Your Views. Lucy believes that Ian’s parents are wrong in stealing his gay, and she Imposes Her View by stealing their child. And her wavering connection to the RIGHTNESS of her actions is both subtle and brilliant. Also, the book is all over splattered with You Don’t Know People’s Shit and isn’t that the trick Lolita pulls off? Sympathy for someone who, as a side-character in some other novel, we would describe as Clearly Horrible?
So maybe the dumb stereotypes in this book are a way of highlighting what Judgy McJudgerfaces we all are, but since they are never redeemed…* scepticism* But also ok, dumb stereotypes aside, The Borrowers is SUPER-GOOD. I know this review is mostly just a rant, but sometimes my button gets stuck, you know? So let me take these last few moments to say that it is ENGROSSING and KIND OF HILARIOUS and has HEARTFELT MOMENTS.