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)