Our columnist Annie West discusses a recent favourite: 'The Messenger' by Markus Zusak.
OK, I admit it, I'm not a trendsetter. I don't often get the chance to discover a brand new author no one has heard about or read the book when it first hits the shelves. Markus Zusak is a case in point. Years ago I heard about a wonderful book he'd written called 'The Book Thief'. You may know it. I bought it for my husband knowing he'd love it (which he did) and hoping to read it myself (which I didn't as other things kept taking priority). Even my daughter read and loved it. Did I mention it's been translated into 30 languages and made the NYTimes bestseller list?
Well, I'm not writing about that book...! I was at a book store recently and a cover caught my eye. 'The Messenger' by Markus Zusak. I remembered the author's name, the fact I still hadn't read his other book, the fact that my reading was being severely disrupted by work and other commitments and I staged a minor rebellion. I bought the book, went home and started reading (well, almost). As a result, I'm going to read 'The Book Thief' as a reward when I get half way through my current ms . Yes, 'The Messenger' was that good!
It didn't matter that it was first released in 2002. Better late than never. It didn't matter that it turns out the book has won various literary awards for young people's fiction (I didn't know it was for young people and believe me it suited this middle-aged person wonderfully well).
Here's the back cover blurb so you can get an idea of what attracted me;
Ed Kennedy - cab driving prodigy, pathetic card player, useless at sex - shares coffee with his dog and is in nervous love with Audrey. His life is one of suburban routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.
That's when the first ace turns up and Ed becomes the messenger.
PROTECT THE DIAMONDS
SURVIVE THE CLUBS
DIG DEEP THROUGH SPADES
FEEL THE HEARTS
Chosen to care, he travels through town, helping and hurting, until only one question remains. Where are the messages coming from?
Intriguing, eh? Not only that, but a beautifully written story. The language is deceptively simple and direct and the author has a gorgeous way with words. I found myself reading short passages aloud to my husband just for the joy of reliving the description of a breeze riffling paper or the emotions stirred.
The first chapter had me chortling out loud with its mixture of great characterisation and dry humour. I'm tempted to say it's a brand of laconic Australian humour but maybe I'm biased. The book is sent in contemporary Australia but I'm sure readers anywhere would enjoy it. I note it was published in the USA under the title 'I am the Messenger'.
I read the back and was reminded a little of 'The Solitaire Mystery' by Jostein Gaarder but really, it's a book that stands by itself. I can't classify it. There's a strong mystery element. Humour pervades the story as does the sort of understated heroism that comes from doing the right thing even when you're scared witless at the prospect. The hero is imperfect, the people are ordinary, living in a working class neighbourhood and facing the sort of everyday issues many of us face and yet they're endearing and fascinating. There's a wonderful poignancy and beauty about some of the subplots. There's some violence, not a lot, but it makes an impact. There's a twist to the plot that removes it from the ordinary quick read and makes you think.
Actually, much of this book made me think. It's a book about caring for each other, making connections with others and proving yourself (to yourself). It isn't too sentimental (with the possible exception of the Doorman, the stinkiest and most delightful old dog I've read about in a long time).
If you haven't discovered Markus Zusak yet, I can recommend him.
And for something completely different, Annie just wanted to mention her latest release (hot off the press this month in the UK) is 'The Desert Sheikh's Defiant Queen', an anthology of two stories with the lovely Jane Porter. Annie's contribution is 'The Desert King's Pregnant Bride'. It's available from Amazon UK and The Book Depository (free postage worldwide). To read about the book pop over to Annie's website.