Tonight, in a headache-induced fit of lethargy, I read all of Markus Zusak's I AM THE MESSENGER. and I AM IN LOVE.
what a book! my god!
I haven't read the book thief, since I haven't been able to get my hands on a library copy, so this was my first exposure to Zusak.
He's a really excellent writer - the characters were great, the scenes were great, the plot (and plotting) were unbelievably great. The cast of secondary (and tertiary) characters in this novel are both inventive and totally, ordinarily real.
Because I'm an American, and because I have never been to Australia, nor have I read many Australian books, something about Australian books has always felt a little ... extra-ordinary, like they aren't set quite in this world. I don't know the locations, the slang, the pop culture in the way that I do for American and even British books. I'm sure this says something hideously provincial about me, but in a way I also like the mystique of mysterious Australia in my books. It gives them a very slightly dreamy edge.
And the particulars of I AM THE MESSENGER are dreamy enough to begin with. It's thoroughly realist at the same time, which delights me. I love books when the dreamy aspect of life is made evident through realism, or when the real world takes on the tones I wish it had.
I don't want to recap the plot, or give anything away, but my two favorite secondary characters are Milla and the Polynesia family.
But Ed - the narrator, protagonist, the one who is utterly uncertain if he will be the hero of his own life - is really the best character of them all, from start to finish. As I concluded the book, I thought of the Brothers Cheeryble, from Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby, who are two of my absolute favorite characters in fiction.
What the Cheerybles share with Ed - or, rather, with Ed's story - is a sense of compassion, of kindness, of love, that is ridiculously rare both in fiction and in the real world. Zusak is a master because he manages to convey a fairly cliched message without it feeling cliched, or even feeling like he's conveying a message. This is not - not EVER - a preachy, or smarmy, or (shudder) sentimental book. It is more than occasionally brutal, often perplexing, lonely, sad, frustrating. But it never once preaches. It is not moralizing. We don't want to become like Ed - we already are like Ed. This is no Eric, or Little by Little. Ed is nobody's role model, nobody's hero, except in the ways that we are all always, already, heroes.
My keywords for life have lately become empathy and compassion, and this book suited those words beautifully, in a way that also satisfies my critical, judgmental, sarcastic streak that resists sentimentality, and boundless optimism.
I am not sure there are any good words to describe this book, and how I feel about it. It's an absolute must-read, and I can't think how I've missed it before now (it was published in 2002, for crying out loud!). I intend to get my hands on THE BOOK THIEF asap, but I also intend to purchase I AM THE MESSENGER as soon as book-buying comes into my financial grasp again. I do not buy books lightly; I do not choose just any, or every, book to add to my collection. My need to own this book is the highest recommendation i could give to it.