Sunday, June 13, 2010

Book Report: I Am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak

I was all set to love this book about a loser who begins receiving playing card in the mail with names, addresses or clues to people he's supposed to visit and help. It's a great story about a young man whose life is going nowhere and how one chance encounter opens him to the possibilities inherent in his own existence. It's told in first person, which seems to be common in YA books, and the voice is compelling. It's well plotted, with him starting to affect the lives of strangers and gradually spiralling in to affect those closest to him, ending with himself.

Admittedly, I had some trouble with his wholesale acceptance of the role the cards assume he'll take, and with the ease his friends just came to accept his decision to follow the destiny they lay out for him. In a book with the grit of realism, these things just seemed too unrealistic. In addition, somewhere around the half-way point, the narrator breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader directly.

For me, both things wreck the immersive experience of a good book, but I was willing to live with them.

If you intend to read this book, stop here, because spoilers follow.

The problem I had with this was the ending. The mystery of where the card6s come from is a constant all through the book. It's not central to the plot because the protagonist never really tries to find out, and it doesn't affect his various assignments. It does crop up frequently, though, and as a reader, I was looking forward to finding out. Whoever they were, they seemed to be omniscient and omnipotent.

But then the book turns metatextual: the source of the cards is the book's author. At this revelation, I tossed the book across the room and uttered an expletive. It's as though the author had written himself into a corner and couldn't come up with any other explanation that fit the observed facts. As a reader, I felt cheated. I'd have felt better if the mystery had remained unresolved. I'd have felt better if aliens had done it. Or time travellers. Or vampires. Or God. Something which could, conceivably, exist within a fictional world. As it was, I got up from the closed covers feeling I'd been the victim of a stealth preacher. That everything which had happened in the book was the will of the author came as no surprise (the same is true of every book), but using that as justification for the story offended me. If I want that kind of thing, I'll read Job.

Ulysses Rating: 4 – I loved this for most of it. -1 for the ending, though.


Kim said...

I agree with you completely on this one. I listened to the audio book, and the narrator was really engaging with a sweet Austrailian accent. The best scene in the book by far was the opening scene in the bank. The dialog about the car was hilarious and really drew me in. The ending was an unsatisfying letdown, but I still enjoyed the book overall.

Ulysses said...

Yes. I felt this one had so much going for it.