Following the resounding success of my Locus Quest, I faced a dilemma: which reading list to follow it up with? Variety is the spice of life, so I’ve decided to diversify and pursue six different lists simultaneously. This book falls into my GIFTS AND GUILTY list.
Regardless of how many books are already queued patiently on my reading list, unexpected gifts and guilt-trips will always see unplanned additions muscling their way in at the front.
In a parallel universe, not too dissimilar to our own, there lives a man (not too dissimilar to myself - but wearing a new, striped, green shirt instead of this well-loved and mottled blue one) who gave The Book Thief five shiny gold stars. He loved every heart-rending second of his time with Liesel Meminger, and when he closed the pages for the final time, a single tear was released to make a slow but determined descent down the curve of his cheek.
I could feel the ghost of that world next-door, reading over my shoulder. I could feel that passionate response as a tremor in the walls, like the neighbours having a noisy party. It was close, but however much I hoped and held my breath, the cigar was never forthcoming.
I didn’t love it; sorry, y’all. I liked it well enough, and I can respect the talent, craft and heart that went into the telling – but the chemistry just wasn’t there for me.
Partly, I think my opinion was influenced by the juxtaposition of The Book Thief with the novel I’d just read before it, My War Gone By, I Miss It So. That comparison did not fall out in Zusak’s favour. My War Gone By is a down’n’dirty true story of the Bosnian war and it was an instant hit with me. It’s a straight-up, truth in your face, take it or leave it, confession story. Zusak’s tale is the carefully sculpted tragedy of a wonderfully special little girl growing up in Nazi Germany, narrated poetically by Death. It’s a great concept and a flawless execution, but to me, at that time, if I’m brutally honest, it felt conceited, ingenuous, and... smug.
When I first finished The Book Thief, I gave it four stars because it really is beautiful writing. But when I was talking to friends about the book I found it harder and harder to summon any enthusiasm. If you can’t tell, I’m still rather confused why we didn’t gel. All the ingredients were right, and yet somehow it’s ended up tasting bland.
Some of the prose is of my favourite type, whimsical, childish, and magical – but the story itself is gritty, sombre and filled with everyday heroism. Damn it! I should have loved this book. I feel like I missed out. But there are plenty more bookies out there that do tickle my tastebuds.
If you love this book and would like to read a review which resonates – check out Natalyia’s (it’s fantastic) – it was that review which got me psyched about the book.
I’m going to follow Emily’s lead in quoting Stephen’s review:
That pretty much sums it up.“I didn't find myself captured by the story as a whole. I liked the characters, loved the writing and certainly loved the originality of the story. But in the end, I didn't enjoy it as much as I would need to in order to rate it higher. I liked it, I just didn't love it.”
This was on my guilty list because I borrowed it from my Mum months before I got around to reading and felt quite the guilty-Gerty for ignoring it for so long. When I did begin the book, a bookmark fell out - a thank-you card from my brother and his wife, who now live in Australia, for being the celebrant at their wedding. I must have slipped it into the book for safe-keeping when I first borrowed it. So that was a nice sentimental moment. I used that card as my bookmark throughout my read, and that's my favourite memory about The Book Thief.
After this I read: Shards of Honor