Thursday, June 18, 2009

book review - Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer

This book was recommended as a companion piece to Don De Lillo's Falling Man but it came with a warning that it was very stylised. That determination to deliver a book that is different from the rest is clearly something Jonathan Safran Foer wants to hit you with from the off with the use of photography and pages of clever typography.

The result is that for a while you struggle to get a handle on quite where this story is going. The main character of Oskar the little boy at first is difficult to empathise with. He is grieving the loss of his father but he seems to be an amalgamation of Gunter Grass's Tin Drum lead, reminded me of A Curious Incident... with his touches of odd behavior. In addition to him the character of the dumb grandfather who talks with words on his hands and in notebooks makes it quite difficult to relate to.

The grandparents are there to hold up the parallel of the terrors of war and the Dresden bombing and firestorm reminding you, if you needed it, that terrible things have happened before and sadly will happen again.

But as the story unfolds you starts to understand that although stylised sometimes too much there is a clever story here of one boy searching for a way to come to terms with his grief and sense of loss. As he traverses New York trying to work out the last mystery his puzzle loving father left for him a host of damaged people are introduced and although Oskar can rarely 'heal' them he does seem to start to learn that many people are suffering and the secrets he keeps are perhaps no worse than some of the others eating away at people.

The moment when he finally decides to tell the stranger who can solve the puzzle of the key he has been trying to search for since the start of the story the contents of his father's last message is very powerful.

If the Falling Man expressed the confusion and anger left by the attacks on the twin towers then Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close leaves you with a sense of the struggle that many relatives had as a life far from finished was snuffed out without explanation or a chance to say good bye.

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