This is the first book that I’ve read for semester two…and initially I really enjoyed it. I read it not thinking about studying it, but purely just for enjoyment (even though I’ll have to pick it to pieces a few weeks from now) and it was a fast-moving, easy read. However when I sat down to write this I discovered I have a few issues with the book.
My main concern is that there is just too much going on. Perhaps that seems a silly thing to say but I think Foer takes on too much. First and foremost it is a novel about Oskar Schnell, a ten-year-old boy who has lost his father in the 9/11 attacks, and while this seems to be a big enough challenge to approach – to explore the effect of grief on the boy and his family and the trauma of the attacks on the city of New York, America and the rest of the world, which is definitely a great topic for any author to explore! – Foer goes further than this and includes many other facets in his story, which I sometimes felt overshadowed what should have been the brightest spark.
Oskar’s travels across the city in search of what his father’s key unlocks overtakes much of the storyline about the loss of his father in 9/11. It seems the attacks and what they symbolised have been pushed aside and swept under the carpet; Foer seems to skirt round the edge rather than facing the issue of the attacks head on. Along the way, I found myself becoming distracted from how the search for the key’s lock was an outlet for the boy’s grief and instead the people he meets and the obsession with the search becomes the main focus.
The novel also references the air raid attack on Dresden, Germany, in 1945 during the Second World War and the effect of this trauma on Oskar’s grandparents who lived through it. This was unexpected and, I felt, extraneous to the storyline. The Dresden attack and the horror of the event deserves more than a few pages of reference - it could have a novel of its own, not just merely a side-line in this one. By trying to include too much I felt the impact of these devastating historic events, the 9/11 attacks and the 1945 Dresden attacks, was, if possible, lessened by the attempt to include them both in the same novel. I think Foer was attempting to connect all the threads of these stories up into an intricate web of fantastic story-telling, but I don’t think he quite managed this. Instead, the story felt too complicated and neither thread was given the development it needed. Not to mention Oskar’s grandfather’s muteness and how he ends up living in secret in the spare room of Oskar’s grandmother’s apartment was a little weird, and dare I say it, too far-fetched. I felt guilty for not being able to empathise or sympathise with either of Oskar’s grandparents as they were portrayed in a way that seemed almost inhuman and devoid of anything I could connect with.
Having said all this, the novel wasn’t completely without merit. Despite it’s sensitive subject there is some humour within the novel and Foer handles Oskar’s mildly autistic character well. The boy is a character that you can form an emotional attachment too; his inventions, his turn of phrase and his innocence gave me an incredibly maternal feeling towards him and he is the reason for making you want to read on.
Overall the novel doesn’t strike me as being particularly well written. There are too many elements all vying for your attention and I must admit I feel a little disappointed. However I have heard much better things about Foer’s first novel, Everything Is Illuminated, so I might give that a try instead.