“Liesel Meminger’s life is changed when…she picks up an object…left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words as Liesel, with the help of her foster father, learns to read. [...] Narrated by Death, The Book Thief is a story about the power of words and the ability of books to feed the soul.” — and so read the blurb at the back of my copy of the book.
I was tempted to pick up this novel because of all the raving reviews it received. I did not come across a single negative review…i.e. until after I’d read the book. Then I wondered if I was the only one who found this best seller nothing but a dead bore. It was tough going for me as I forced myself to turn every single page and move on. If you’re wondering why I kept at it, it was mostly because I was looking for something I might have missed…something that was to say I’d finally come to the best part, the part that makes this book such a rave. But towards the end of the book I was just plodding through to the finish, having made it so far already.
So then, what was it about The Book Thief that made this experience so monotonous for me?
1. The Characters
They were so dry. There was no soul in them, save maybe a little in Papa Hans and Rudy. The women, including Liesel the protagonist, were absolutely colourless. They lacked any kind of personality, a special something that could make me respond to them — be it in a negative or positive way. I wasn’t able to connect with any character emotionally, or at any other level really. They were just pieces on a board being moved around to the finish.
Contrived. That’s the word that kept going through my mind as I read the book. The whole language and writing style is so absolutely contrived. It made me think of the days of my creative writing classes when many of us (mostly unskilled writers) were trying to oust the others in coming up with the most bizarre similes and metaphors we could think of. Most often they never worked — they simply showed unhoned skills at best or a lack of true talent at worst.
A few examples from the novel:
a) the colours that Death sees — the so-called colourful descriptions of the sky — “chocolate coloured sky” and “breakfast coloured sun”
b) “hair like feathers”
c) “cardboard face”
I found these images distorted and messed around with my ability to imagine what the writer was trying to show me as a reader. The heavy and most often, bizarre imagery, only served to confuse my imagination. And almost every other sentence was splattered with imagery of this kind that finally formed either a hazy or a grotesque picture in my mind’s eye.
I hated it.
The book claims to be a book about words, the soul of words — but all it proved to be was absolute drivel. I think the reason I went so far into the book before I felt just must not stop, was because I was hoping for some magic in the description of words. But urgh! I think, when my son learns to read, I could tell a better tale of his wonder and amazement at finding that the odd squiggly lines have meanings, that they can paint a picture, that they can be sheer poetry, that they can give freedom to and express thoughts…and I am no writer.
Zusak’s description of words are as dry and colourless as his characters and his story. It was nothing but sheer disappointment on so many levels.
I’d bought the The Book Thief with a great deal of excitement and opened it to read with much anticipation. Now, I’m delegating it to my box of rejects which I hope to send for a sale soon. It definitely isn’t worth keeping. Not for me, anyway.