martha's Reviews > The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
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's review
Oct 16, 2008

did not like it
bookshelves: 2008, gave-up
Read in January, 2008

Everyone in the whole world seems to adore this book and yet I hate it SO MUCH. The writing style is just SO grating; it took me forever to figure out why, but I think in large part it's because it's 100% telling-without-showing. See, the premise is awesome -- a book set in Germany during WWII, narrated by Death, focusing on the life of one civilian German girl. But Death(/the author) just tells you what everyone's feeling or doing, so the characters are like flat automatons. There's no depth or pathos, in what should be a really fascinating story. Further, the narrator doesn't so much foreshadow as tell you everything that's going to happen, eliminating any suspense. Plus the tone is just annoying; kind of condescending and precious.

And in lots of places the writing is just *bad* -- tons of passive voice ("two giant words were struggled with, carried on her shoulder, and dropped as a bungling pair at Ilsa Hermann's feet"), and it tries way too hard to be literary and deep and often just ends up being awkward and clunky.

It's a shame this falls so flat for me, when there's so much awesome YA Holocaust literature out there -- The Devil's Arithmetic, Number the Stars, The Diary of Anne Frank and more. Or if you want a book about bombing in Germany, read Slaughterhouse V.

I can't even finish it, and I ALWAYS finish books I'm more than halfway through; maybe I'll come back someday, but all my previous attempts have ended in gnashing of teeth. It leaves such a bad taste in my mouth.
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Reading Progress

02/01 marked as: gave-up

Comments (showing 1-23 of 23) (23 new)

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message 1: by Jen (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jen Good review- clarified some things and made me feel so much better about not gushing over the writing. Thanks!

Daniel There's no reason to finish it, Martha. It never gets any better.

message 3: by Jen (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jen Well, I did like the "drawerings", Daniel.

Daniel "Clumsy and awkward," Jen. You said so yourself. (Yes, I looked!)

message 5: by Jen (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jen Was this his first book? Because it felt that way to me when I read it. He needed to cut, cut, kill, kill some of his darlings.

Daniel I'm sorry to say that this was not his first book. And now that it's a big hit, he'll likely be one of those writers who won't be edited much if at all from here on out. What a shame.

message 7: by Jen (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jen I agree with your review as well. There was too much monkeying around with the format and font. The rambling on was a problem. But invention and imagery kept him in the three star range for me. The intrusive narration was not as intrusive to me as some of Hawthorne. His target audience I thought was YA...for that audience the key problem I thought was the amount of material that needed lopping off.

Daniel And that raises an interesting question, Jen: If teenagers have such ridiculously short attention spans, as we keep being told they do, why are the most succesful YA novels (this one, "Twilight") so long and needlessly wordy? Can someone explain this apparent paradox?

message 9: by Jen (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jen Not I, said the little red hen.

Maybe they kept reading Twilight hoping there was real honest to God sex somewhere.

If YA is ready for better written rambling they should get hooked on Irving.

Daniel And at least Irving has honest-to-God sex scenes, cringe-inducing though they may be.

message 11: by Jen (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jen HA! From Owen Meany - "Hardness! Hardness!" "Wetness! Wetness!"

Alexis It makes me sad that you analyzed (and trashed) this book from the perspective of a staunchly traditional instructor of writing. This is experimental fiction at its best, and all of the things that you labeled as narrative weakness were actually decisions made deliberately and masterfully by Zusak. It seems so wrong that anyone would tell a friend not to finish this book.

Kimberley Alexis wrote: "It makes me sad that you analyzed (and trashed) this book from the perspective of a staunchly traditional instructor of writing. This is experimental fiction at its best, and all of the things tha..."

I agree with you, Alexis. I got the impression that the above detractors were a bit more impressed with themselves than the clever way Z chose to write his story.

Daniel Or, perhaps, we simply didn't like the book. Perhaps what you found clever we found annoying, and what you found experimental fiction at its best we found pretension at its worst. One doesn't have to be "staunchly traditional" to find some forms of experimentation unacceptable.

message 15: by Ademption (new)

Ademption Fight! Fight!

I have no stance yet on whether to read this.

Claudette I agree.. there is no depth here. As sad as this story was, I found myself emotionless, and disconnected. This would have been a story better told in the 1st person perhaps?

Marie Very good point about the telling vs. showing! That's one of the points I considered in my review and just didn't get to (I tend to get distracted while writing them).

I think one of the things that most annoyed me was that sometimes his gimmicks (like the little bold asides) worked—but most of the time they didn't. "Death's" narrative descriptions occasionally worked—and nearly all of the time didn't.

Literature overall, I think, would benefit from more developmental editors. Even the books I love have sprawl that should have been cut. Focus isn't a bad think!

I may have given it more stars, but you definitely caught all of the flaws I did (none of which are fixed by the ending, so finishing it wouldn't help). Power to multiple opinions.

Sheetal Joshi I actually heard it over my commute and the narrator was just so good... I think thats a big reason why I enjoyed this book even more. You can give it a try. I picked my audio book from the local library.

message 19: by Megan (new) - rated it 1 star

Megan Exactly what I thought

Michelle Thanks for this review--you've restored some of my faith in the reading population! Oh how I cringed my way through dozens of labored, awkward constructions in this book. You highlighted one of the best/worst of them in your review. As you say, lots of just bad writing (and all of the development issues on top of that). In fact, I'm downgrading my rating; the book doesn't deserve two stars.

message 21: by Anton (new)

Anton Dockel I am 68 I have been reading since age 7. This book is really one of the very worst books ever. Bad writing , pretentious, quasi-poetic, clunky and the story is unrealistically portrayed by one dimensional characters. When all around you praise the worthless, you wonder, maybe the aliens HAVE landed and wiped their powers of comprehension away

message 22: by Anna (new) - rated it 2 stars

Anna YES! it is SO condescending and it assumes i'm some simple minded person who thought everyone living in Nazi German was just evil. what?!!! it focuses so much on trying to make the book seem deep, as you said, and so it focus only on the idea of the book instead of the book itself.

message 23: by Megan (new) - rated it 1 star

Megan So many gimmicks!

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