Please note that although I am not marking this as containing spoilers there are some references to spoilers towards the end of this review.
I feel a bit ashamed to be awarding The Book Thief a mere two, as it is the lowest ranking out of all my friends on GR who have read it. Everyone else has given it a four or five star glowing review. So I think I will have to don a protective vest and bullet proof helmet before I commence with this review.
I decided that it would be unfair for me to give it a three when I have liked quite a few of my threes quite a bit, but I did not find them stunning.
It is also difficult for me to give this a two as it puts it in the same category as The Da Vinci Code which I did not care for at all. However it is probably on the same level as Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for me – a book I could not connect with but do not dislike and did enjoy some parts of reading it.
The Book Thief is a 2.5 rating for me. When Goodreads gets half star ratings I will correct it.
I will start by saying that this book was probably doomed from the start for me. I do not like weird narrators and I have never gotten on with such strongly omnipresent narrators such as this, it puts me right off.
I guess it makes me a pretty straight forward reader, maybe a bit boring and unadventurous but I prefer a 'normal' narrator. Death as narrator felt too weird, it took me away from the story and characters and presented many problems which I cannot say that I liked.
I felt too much attention was paid to the unique narrator of the book. Death never quite allowed you to really be in the story, it felt more like watching a story unfold within a glass snow shaker with characters being poked around rather then forming organically.
If The Book Thief was a movie I could see it being like the Nightmare Before Christmas/The Princess Bride – in that kind of stop-motion filming. Maybe using paper or cardboard though rather then plasticine. That is more or less how I visualised it when I was reading.
I did not like the little interjections in bold by Death, which served only to jar the story. I kept wanting to tell Death to butt out! This is Lisel’s story – not yours!
The storyline felt very empty for me – not much happened, nothing really progressed beyond Liesel stealing a few books and loving her papa very much. I did not like how Max was often just referred to the Jew, it depersonalised him and his character became more of a shadow then anything else. Maybe that was the whole point, but it didn’t work for me.
I think Zusak had a great opportunity to tell a different side of world war two history and the holocaust, but it got lost in his choice to concentrate on the more stylistic elements of his writing, then actually creating a plot and characters with any force or strength. Instead, you would hardly believe you were reading a story about the second world war apart from a few token mentions of bombs and Jews.
The other reason why I was doomed not to enjoy The Book Thief – not a fan of the overuse of metaphors and similes. Every paragraph practically contained a metaphor or a simile to something. However, I think he did this quite well – it actually worked. The whole war was hidden behind metaphors and the only time Death actually came out and said something that was not a metaphor to the death and killings he (or it?) finished by saying “but that is all to metaphoric” or something to that effect I cannot find the exact quote at the moment. I just do not enjoy reading that kind of writing.
What also irritated me, was Death's tone - it was full of pity and dripping with sorrow for these characters. It got too much that I suppose that in itself aided my distancing from the characters. I didn't see them as people - just characters in a book and I'm afraid I need more of a reason to care about characters other then being told all the sad things that's going to happen to them and those around them.
***************Slight Spoilery Mentionings
**************And the last reason why I found it difficult to connect with this book is that Death seemed determined to ruin it! He always told you exactly what was going to happen before it happened which rather took the interest out of the story for me, or the will to find out what happened. So I’m sorry and shocked to say that I did not cry at the end. Apart from the fact Death went ahead and told me exactly what was going to happen, I felt it was a bit of an overkill kinda – let’s imagine the worst possible thing we can do to Liesel and let’s do it – kinda thing.
**********End of Spoilery Mentionings
So I don’t want to say that I think that The Book Thief does not work, it is simply just not a book for me. I understand why many people like it, I think Zusak achieved what he set out to write and he wrote it very well. It could have come across as really cheesy or over-done but he doesn’t. It is not a book I’d freely recommend to people unless I knew they liked or were more open to this kind of writing then I most definitely would.
I’m sad I did not enjoy this book more as I am interested in this era of history and I like reading books more from the other side – the German side as that would have been unique and interesting enough. I prefer smaller, more human stories to ones that are too much about war and fighting. The Book Thief was a small story – but looked at from a distance. I want a small story and I want to be there, I want to walk amongst them.
I would like to add that had this book been set in the modern day as opposed to a historical setting, I may have warmed to this style of writing and choice of narration more. For stories such as these, historicals, I like a more traditional approach.
So there is no reason why I might not enjoy other books by Zusak, I don't deny his ability.
Reading through other people's comments about how much they love this book makes me feel kinda stupid. What is it that I just didn't get that everyone else did? What deeper meaning can I not tap into?
Two of my favourite children's/YA books set during world war two are: Shadow of the Wall and [b:Beyond the Wall|3983946|Beyond the Wall|Christa Laird|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51G7HA19HEL._SL75_.jpg|3352552] by Christa Laird, which are set in Poland about Jewish refugees. The first book begins in Warsaw and the second continues on. They meant for younger children - probably for the ages 12-14 but are very well written, although not the same subject as The Book Thief.