Books Read in 2021 29. I am the Messenger – Markus Zusak

Genre: Australian fiction, young adult, bildungsroman

Narrative Style: First person, chronological

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2002

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Ed Kennedy is a no hoper. He drives a cab and hangs around with his friends. He has a dog and is in love with Audrey, one of his friends even though she is not interested in him romantically. He has no prospects and no ambitions. Then playing cards start to appear in his mailbox and his life changes irrevocably.

Time on Shelf: About six months. After reading Bridge of Clay last year, I was keen to read more Zusak.

I enjoyed this. It was an easy read – I didn’t realise when I picked it up that it was aimed at the teen market – and the characters were interesting. Ed was an observant and funny narrator and the messages he has to deliver are weird and I was keen to know who was sending them. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the other Zusak I’ve read. It’s sometimes a little weird when you read an earlier work by a writer and this felt like it just wasn’t quite there yet. It had a lot of Zusak’s quirks but they weren’t delivered quite as well as in the later books.

The opening chapter is one of the best I have read. Ed and his friend Marv are face down in a bank that is being robbed, rather incompetently. By the end of the chapter, Ed is a hero and his face is in all the newspapers. Not long after this, he receives the first playing card – the ace of clubs – which has three addresses on it. At each address, he has to do something to help the people who live there. This theme follows with the other playing cards. Some of the jobs are easy – pretending to be an elderly lady’s long lost husband, for example – and some are difficult – dealing with a man who comes home each night to rape his wife, for example. As the novel progresses, the messages Ed has to deliver become more personal and he starts to realise that there is more to him than just being a underage cab driver.

All the way through, I was curious about where the playing cards were coming from. I knew there was potential for it to completely spoil the story if I wasn’t convinced by it or if we didn’t get to find out. As it is, when Ed has delivered all the messages, a man appears who tells him he has arranged everything. He killed Ed’s father, made the bank robbery happen, forced the man to rape his wife and so on. He gives Ed all the notes he has made about it and sure enough all the events are in there. Clearly, this man represents the author who is controlling everything in order to make Ed a better person. I’m a sucker for fiction about fiction so that really appealed to me. (Obviously, you could see this as a religious metaphor if you wanted to but I prefer the idea of an overarching author to that of an overarching God.) It left me feeling happy and satisfied.

DAY 14 – Book that made you cry – Dancer from the Dance and The Book Thief.

I don’t want to sound hard-hearted but I’m not really given to crying when I read. It’s at least partly because I don’t read the right sort of fiction – or what I imagine is the right sort of fiction. Jodi Picoult for example, I imagine from the subject matter of her books would probably move me to tears. As I have already noted, I am not really romantic so those sort of stories pass me by. So it took me a little while to decide what I was going to write about.

Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran is one of those marvellous

photo (2)books that can have you laughing one minute and crying the next. Set in the New York Gay Scene in the 1970s, it is about one man’s search for some sort of meaning and some version of love in amongst the superficiality. Holleran brings the scene to life vividly. All of the characters are memorable, even if they only swim into the limelight briefly. In amongst all the chaos of the scene is Malone, exquisitely beautiful and extremely lonely. He seems untouched by everything while so desperately wanting to feel something. 

His friendship with the superbly catty queen Sutherland is at the centre of the novel and the reader becomes close to the both of them. It is this that renders the ending so very tragic and is so upsetting, Holleran frames the novel with letters from a friend who has left the scene and the details of the lives that have continued contained in these letters save the book from being too tragic and instead leave the reader with a more hopeful feeling.

My second choice is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak which is set in Germany in the second world war and is narrated by Death. I’m not sure what it was that was so devastating about this book. I have read other books

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with similar subject matter (Schindler’s Ark, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Pianist, for example) without getting upset.

Perhaps it is the idea of Death watching us and narrating. The tone is strangely distant from the events that it sees. There are tragedies in this book and they are upsetting but the moment in this book that finally made me cry is a happy one. it is a hopeful moment that speaks of true friendship. And it is a relief.