Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Page Count/Review Word Count: 560
I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book and a lot of people say it’s their favourite, so I guess it was a little over-hyped for me. I thought it was fine, but it’s far from my favourite book. It’s not even my favourite war book. It’s not even my favourite Second World War book. But it’s okay.
I think one of the problems that I had was with Zuzak’s writing style. I had a lot of issues with the way he used language, and passages that I think were supposed to sound folksy and cute just annoyed me. I also didn’t like how it constantly stopped and started and how the narrative kept on being interrupted to have a stylised list of either what had just happened or what was about to happen.
Death as a narrator sounded good but didn’t really work out too well in practice. I had issues with how sometimes he could tell what people were thinking and doing and at other times he couldn’t, which left me confused by exactly how death was supposed to work.
There were bits of the story that I liked, but I also thought that it relied too heavily on the gimmicks and that it was about 200 pages too long. In fact, I thought that the central plot seemed a little too easy because apart from one isolated incident, it made hiding a person in your basement for a prolonged period of time seem pretty easy.
For me, all of this meant that I started losing interest, and then suddenly it felt like 80% of the plot came along in the last 20% of the pages. By then, it was too late for me and I wasn’t emotionally attached to the story enough to really care, although I do always like a bleak ending and so that helped. But really, I think it would have been a much more enjoyable book if it had been redacted and the gimmicks had been taken out.
I know that a lot of people love this book and I can respect that. It’s far from a bad novel, it’s just also not necessarily to my tastes. It reminds me in some way of The Night Circus, perhaps because I think the world building was good in both and because they both seemed to drag while I was reading them. But it was no better than the world building in other historical novels.
As historical novels go, I’d rank it between Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare on the low end and Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier at the top. The Book Thief would come smack between them in terms of both enjoyment value and believability, at least for me. But as for the characters who are at the heart of the story, I just didn’t particularly care for them.
All in all then, I have mixed feelings. There were bits that I liked and bits that I didn’t like, but most of all I’m just glad that I’ve read it and won’t have to read it again. But it has at least made me want to pick up the non-fiction book I have about Hitler’s failed beer hall putsch in 1923.