Thursday, March 17, 2011

What Are You Reading Thursday: 'The Messenger'

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.
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.


  1. Annie, what a lovely review. And I'm so glad when you decided to play hooky that it was with a book worth stealing time for. I've seen Marcus Zusak interviewed quite often - when he hit number one on the NYT, he seemed to be everywhere. He's incredibly charming and self-effacing! And I'm sure I remember that he grew up speaking German in his household. His parents were German immigrants to Australia. A librarian I met had invited him to talk to her young reader group and she said he was an absolute delight to deal with too. Isn't it nice when nice things happen to nice people?

    Congratulations on the new anthology. The Desert King's Pregnant Bride is a doozy of a story! I'm glad it's getting a chance to seduce a whole raft of new readers!

  2. Annie, I love the sound of this book (have you considered a sideline as a book reviewer?)
    Must of us romance readers also read widely outside our genre and a personal recommendation of a good book is always welcome.
    THE MESSENGER might be an investment for this family because it sounds like something my teenage daughter would also like. She has a bus ride to university now and is enjoying reading a non-study related book on the way. She's currently reading BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S and quite bemused by the Truman Capote short stories that accompany the more famous novella.
    But of course when it comes down to a wonderful, romantic escapist Sheikh story, I can't go past Annie West--THE DESERT KING'S PREGNANT BRIDE sounds like a must-read, too!

  3. Ooh, Anna, I like the idea of my latest release seducing a whole new set of readers!

    How nice to hear Markus Zusak is so pleasant. I don't know why, but I do enjoy hearing that people whose work I like are pleasant. I'd love to hear him talk about his work.

    I still haven't got to 'The Book Thief' but I will one day. It was so terrific just playing hooky and reading for pure enjoyment when I had so many other things to do!

  4. Kandy, I'm flattered that you think I've got what it takes to review. Thank you. It's not hard when you enjoy the book, don't you think?

    Maybe this book is one for your daughter. I tried to interest mine in it when she was briefly home from uni but she was in such a rush, meeting up with friends, she didn't take it back with her. Maybe next time.

    Thanks for the kind words about my sheikh stories. I know you enjoy them but believe me, it's always good to hear!

  5. Hi, Annie! Congrats on the new anthology! I have just finished reading your wonderful Protected by the Prince--not a sheikh story but a fairytale story. I loved it!

    I've heard so much about the Book Thief and have been meaning to read it. (Where does time go???) Now I'll have to add The Messenger to my list after your great review.

  6. Ooh, Annie, 'The Messenger' is on my tbr pile. And' The Book Thief' is sitting on my bedside table sending out its siren call. I've been so looking forward to diving into the worlds of both these novels, and you have me doubly eager now.

    Oh, and while I love both of Zuzak's covers, I have to say that the cover of 'The Desert Sheikh's Defiant Queen' is gorgeous. I hope it walks off the shelves because the 'Desert King's Pregnant Bride' is a fantastic story.

  7. Hi Vanessa, What great news that you enjoyed 'Protected by the Prince' so much! yay!

    Sorry to add to your reading list, but this one really was something different and special. Who knows, maybe it was just the right time for me to read it, but it's made me look forward immensely to reading another of his.

  8. Michelle, it sounds like you've got some wonderful reading ahead of you. Enjoy!

    Isn't the cover lovely? I was so pleased when I saw it.

  9. Oh, I'm always happy to expand my reading list, Annie. This not a problem at all!

  10. Ah, Vanessa, you're like me. My reading list is enormous! Hope you get to this one some time soon.

  11. Annie, That is a gorgeous cover. I'd buy it for that, not to mention for the books by you and Jane!

  12. I'd never heard of this author but just for your information there are 29 copies of The Book Thief in the Calgary Library system and all of them are out with 63 holds on the book plus they have more copies on order. I am the Messenger has only 15 copies and I can pick one up tomorrow when I go in to pick up my other hold. I love reading these posts.

  13. Annie, great review! I'm sold - this book is going on my wish list. And from Anna's comment, Marcus sounds like a really nice person!

    Congratulations on your anthology with Jane Porter! Two awesome authors in one book - what's not to love! And that's one hot looking cover in more than one way! Perfect for desert stories!