My usual rule, when reading a book that’s just not doing it for me, is to give a book 50 pages or 10% of its length, whichever is longer. I allowed Markus Zusak and his narrator, Death, twice that long this time, willing myself to get into The Book Thief. But 120 pages in, I gave up.
I am perfectly willing to acknowledge that it might have been my fault. I have just come off of a perfectly incredible run of books (Travels With Charley, Pale Fire, Endless Things, Staying Put) and it would have been difficult for anything to measure up. Maybe I would have abandoned even a book that was better than this one. And this book wasn’t terrible: I kind of wanted to find out what happened, and some of the characters had fun and engaging characteristics. (I loved Rudy, smearing coal-dust on himself to imitate Jesse Owens’s success at the Olympics.)
But oh, geez, the writing. It was so repetitive — if I had to read the word Saumensch one more time, I thought I’d puke — and so heavy-handed. Each event was carefully foreshadowed four or five times, then depicted, then pointed out: See? I told you so. Well, yes, yes you did, Death, but actually you didn’t have to tell us quite so often. When it comes to the difficulties of the 1930s in Nazi Germany, you can probably assume some knowledge on the part of the reader. Even young adult readers have likely heard of the Nazis. Anne Frank, anyone? And the little asides starred in bold (HERE IS A SMALL FACT; A SMALL ANNOUNCEMENT; A SPECTACULARLY TRAGIC MOMENT) had no rhyme or reason and were not structured into the book in any way that made sense to me. Not to mention that if we were going to get Death’s personal commentary, would he (or she) really shout in headlines? She strikes me as an understated person. Grey tailored suit.
Um. Perhaps you can see that by this point, this book was getting on my nerves.
Do you abandon books you’re not getting on with, or do you stick it out, especially when they’re so well-loved and highly-recommended? (Out of 1200 reviews of this book at Amazon, 1000 are positive.)