Book seven in this month’s 12 in 12 Challenge is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. This is, as required by this month’s theme, a stand-alone novel and is told by a nine year old boy living in New York City.
Oskar is an unusual child although we are never given an external description of his character. He is amazingly literal, very focussed and seems to have no barriers when dealing with people. He is also very literate and his narrative forms the core of the book. There is also the story of his grandparents running alongside this which is told in narrative, diary entries and letters. In the end the two stories merge but I actually thought that they didn’t fit well together and there was often a jolt when you had to move from one to another – it felt like two different books.
Oskar’s father dies in 9/11 and this book is set shortly afterwards. Oskar is still coming to terms with his father’s death and has in his possession his mobile phone with recorded messages sent as the disaster unfolded. Oskar finds a key in an envelope which is secreted in a vase and decides that he needs to work out what the key opens. His only clue is the name “Black” scribbled on an envelope where the key was hidden. He decides to visit everyone in the city called Black and ask them if they know about the key.
The majority of the book is the meetings with various people named Black and what Oskar learns. He befriends some and one older man comes with him for a lot of his journey. Between those journeys Oskar lives his life and details that as well as recalling what happened on the day that his father died.
The book doesn’t only contain words. There are pictures of items mentioned in the story and the author also uses different text sizes and fonts to depict events and feelings. This works well enough in a paper copy of the book but if you were reading this electronically I think it might be a problem. I have seen this technique used before (The Book Thief is one example) and I can’t say that it adds much to the enjoyment of the book for me but it doesn’t detract from it either – I tend to blip over the special effects and get back to the story.
Some of this book was enlightening and some was tender. Much of it was unlikely and I think that you have to regard it as being a bit of a fairy tale. The resolution of the found key was rather rushed and I would have appreciated more time on it. I never really believed in Oskar – he was just too articulated and self-motivated. I can see why this book is highly regarded and I certainly didn’t hate it but, in the end, it just wasn’t really my thing.