Saturday, 3 February 2007

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief
Markus Zusak
(Doubleday €??)

THE Book Thief would be a masterpiece if it were two-thirds shorter. But who am I to cavil - it's been hanging about the top of the world's bestseller lists for months, a nice place to be.

It's a great premise: a story set in Germany during World War II, from the point of view of a kid who's in the Hitler Youth (the girly version, the Bund Deutscher Madchen) but is visibly a good guy, because her communist parents have disappeared and she's fostered out.

And it's quirkily written, from the point of view of Death, who takes a shine to the kid when he comes across her on various occasions while going about his lawful business, sequacious of souls.

Young Liesel's obsession with books is a fitting one for a closet anti-Nazi, who observes the giant burnings and bullyings of a society dedicated to anti-intellectual oneness.

Death's observations, in bold type centred in the text every page or so, are charming at first, and by the end of the book had me grinding my teeth at their saccharine amn't-I-cleverness.

When Liesel is dropped off at Himmel Street, for instance, Death rams the irony home with the note:

Himmel = Heaven

The characters are transferred straight from the American teen movie: there's the feisty but bullied friend, the eccentric older lady mentor, the odd but lovable foster-dad and odd but somewhat less lovable foster-mom. And so on.

But don't let me put you off. This is a superseller, and people absolutely love it. I'm just an old sourpuss.

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