Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Book Thief ... (& some comments on recent book club books)

It's a bit unfortunate that this book followed straight on from The Other Hand by Chris Cleave as they have similar themes. I would rate The Other Hand as 'very good' (bordering on 'excellent') and The Book Thief as 'okay'. Solar by Ian McEwan, I'd rate as 'awful'. So in 3 consecutive books we have awful, very good and okay.

Both The Other Hand and The Book Thief deal with a universal human condition: our inherent fear of outsiders and our readiness to endow an oppressed group with the cause of all of a society's ills and economic woes. This is what leads to evil. Of the 2 books, The Other Hand is much more powerful and influential. One would say it engages our empathy more easily - a necessary attribute for fiction. And whilst it is more current, amongst the selected review extracts at the front, someone compares it to Thomas Keneally's Schindler's Ark. Before reading the book, I thought that was a bit of a stretch, but afterwards, I thought not. Schindler's Ark I would rate as 'excellent'.

So I've managed to avoid talking about The Book Thief directly because it pales against better endeavours concerned with the same subject. I think it was an ambitious book that the author didn't quite pull off (says he who has written a one-hit-wonder that never sold). There was a scene towards the end of the book that completely unsuspended my suspension of disbelief (where she chases after Max in the parade of Jews going to Dachau) and I hate that. Nevertheless, I'm sure there are many readers who got very emotionally involved and loved it. I thought the book was very episodic without a strong narrative thread. The fact that everyone she ever loved, or knew, ended up dead (except the most likely contender) didn't provide a satisfactory resolution for me. The Other Hand has a tragic ending as well, but it's all the more forceful for that. Comparisons can't be helped on almost every front.

I might lend The Book Thief to someone (unlike Solar, which I wouldn't even give to a stranger) but I would tell them that it didn't work for me. The Other Hand I would recommend to anyone old enough to read it.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm ... I'm not a fan of the McEwan fellow generally - admittedly I have only read few of his books, but does nothing for me - simply being clever can annoy me.
    'The Other Hand' I agree is quite the book, relevant, contemporary, insightful and I'm forcing my kids (they don't take to encouragement too well) to read it.
    'The Book Thief' you already know my opinion, possibly a good story, good characters but for me ruined by too many words too often - I know others have commented on his prose being poetic, but for me it was distracting.
    Not having read 'Schindler's Ark' - I can't comment, but what a movie !