Friday, 9 December 2011

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

I’d seen some great reviews of this from some of my Goodreads friends, so decided to give it a read. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close follows a nine year old boy, Oskar, in the months following his father’s death in the twin towers. Oskar finds a key amongst his father’s possessions and becomes obsessed with the idea of finding the lock which the key fits. His search takes him across the whole of New York, introduces him to all sorts of people, and makes him feel somehow closer to his father.

The book is told mainly from Oskar’s point of view, but there are other strands to the tale and other voices introduce their own stories too. Chief amongst these is that of Oskar’s grandfather, Thomas, who left his wife when she was pregnant with Oskar’s father. Thomas writes a series of letters to his unborn child, beginning on the day he left, and through these we learn more of his past and reasons for abandoning his family.

This is an unconventional book, and Oskar is a troubled child with many fears, but also a wonderful imagination and talent for invention. At first the book reminded me a lot of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but this had a much wider scope and the stories of Oskar’s grandparents gave it a complexity that was missing from Haddon’s work. The book also includes photographs and extracts from letters which help to underline some of the points made in the novel (the photographs at the very end in particular will stagger any reader and keep them thinking about the novel for a long time afterwards).

The book gives us a very real and moving portrait of a child who is left devastated and profoundly damaged by the death of his beloved father. Somehow the author manages to do this without overloading the story with sentimentality or schmaltz, which is quite an achievement given the book’s subject matter. Some of Oskar’s insights and comments on the world around him are amazing, and cut to the heart of things in a way that children sometimes can. But no matter how clever his thoughts are, Oskar’s voice still comes across as authentic. It’s a really difficult thing to pull off, but Foer manages it very skilfully and I was really impressed. 

This is the kind of book I love the most – one that really makes you think. After I’d finished reading it I felt like picking up the phone and calling my family, just to touch base and let them know I was thinking about them. Any book that can have that kind of effect is definitely something special.

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