Friday, 2 December 2016

Does Writing Style Affect Your Ratings? - "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer

Goodreads Page
Kindle Edition, 326 pages
Published April 4th 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2005)

Nine-year-old Oskar Schell is an inventor, amateur entomologist, Francophile, letter writer, pacifist, natural historian, percussionist, romantic, Great Explorer, jeweler, detective, vegan, and collector of butterflies. When his father is killed in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre, Oskar sets out to solve the mystery of a key he discovers in his father's closet. It is a search which leads him into the lives of strangers, through the five boroughs of New York, into history, to the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima, and on an inward journey which brings him ever closer to some kind of peace.


I mention writing style in the title of this review, because it's about the only thing I liked about this book. Really.

The plot is unrealistic, and boring to boot. The characters are better, but I think the only reason I like them is the style of the writing in where they're explored. Most of the characters around Oskar, our main character, are either described by Oskar as the narrator (who has a very strange way of thinking and looking at the world that is endearing), or their stories are told in letters written to various other characters.

The writing style is very unusual, but it is my kind of thing. It's about the only part of this book that is my thing. I can't remember where, but I saw the words "hyper realistic" used in reference to the writing in this novel, and I have to say that that's accurate. Oskar's narration reads like a real person's inner monologue put down onto paper, as is, although it never reads his age, which seems strange and adds to the sense of surrealism in a bad way.

The letters by and about the other characters around Oskar, I loved. The story of his grandparent's, and the way they both describe their interactions with each other are written beautifully. But I feel like everything else in this novel suffered for it, because most of the time I felt the story made no sense in what it was pointed at. Why was Oskar in it? Why was the plot about the key and lock even relevant? I understand it's Oskar's personal journey but it just goes in circles and leads to no real change in his life. His grandparent's were the real stars of this story, but even though plenty of the novel dealt with them, it wasn't in the right direction, forever still spiraling around Oskar and his quest.

Plus, I just can't get behind that a mother would let their 9 year old boy walk around New York for hours on his own. I really just don't believe that, but the whole story hinges on the fact that his mother lets him do that, with no real explanation as to why she does. Feels like lazy writing to me.

The photographs are a nice touch throughout the book, but they didn't feel necessary, and were more distracting from the story than anything else. The very last few pages of photographs are the only ones I enjoyed, and that's for the effect they made.

Also I don't know why they mention the bombing of Hiroshima in one of the Goodread's descriptions; it's mentioned for what must be less than 4 or 5 pages.

All in all, this would have been a 1 star book, if not for how much I enjoyed to writing style, and even then it still only gets 2 stars. That's why I ask, how much does the style of writing affect how you rate books - ones you liked or disliked? Let me know. 

I'm not averse to trying out more of Foer's work, considering that his newest book came out this year (?), so there's been more than ten years between this one and the new one for him to develop. Let's hope in the time he's had he's improved.

Things to look out for:

  • A writing style that I enoyed but seems like it wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea.
  • An unrealistic plot
  • A book that centres itself around the less interesting characters (which is just frustrating)

If I could summarise my thoughts on this book in a GIF:

Star Rating:


  1. I can understand liking the writing style but not much else. I think, like you, I would add one star for a good writing style. Ultimately, I need to like the story and the characters too to rate a book highly.

    1. Writing style just has a lot of weight with me. I take off stars for books that would otherwise be 5 stars if the writing style wasn't simplistic/nothing special. The story and characters are so central to a book, it's the reason the book exists (except for nonfiction I suppose).

  2. Huh, yeah, I would be bothered reading about a nine-year-old walking around NY alone too with no explanation because that's not realistic and would be so unsafe. But I can definitely understand writing style affecting your rating. It affects my ratings too. Writing style is a big part of the book and the enjoyment you get from it!

    1. It's just so unrealistic and makes no sense. I feel like the half-explanation you get for why he's allowed to is just a cop-out because if it was realistic the story wouldn't even exist.

  3. As much as I try to deny it, writing style definitely affects how I feel about the book. With Japanese literature (my biblio drug), I've learned to adapt to reading a variety of styles, even if it's not normally my cup of tea. But sometimes, if the writing is the ONLY thing going for the book, I think I do tend to rate it higher than I normally would. I love books that have narrator's who have monologue type of discussions with themselves. For me, it's fascinating to see their brain process those thoughts. Everyone is so different in regards to how they think and shit, and the different ways that people think is something that I find immensely interesting... If any of that made any sense... Another great post!

    1. I'm exactly the same! Inner monologue styles are my favourite. If you have a character narration in the first person and you don't give them any of their true voice, it just ends up sounding so flat!


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