This novel is principally narrated by nine year old Oskar Schell, who a few months after his father is killed during 9/11, finds a key of his father’s in his house. We follow Oskar as he sets off on an adventure around New York to discover what the key unlocks, at the same time as trying to come to terms with his father’s death. There is also a parallel narrative telling the story of Oskar’s Grandmother and Grandfather and their relationship, around the time of the 1945 Dresden bombing. This narrative is told through different letters and stories, which gives the novel a real multi dimensional feel. This novel is extremely insightful and sad, but above all I found it to be remarkably touching.
I really enjoyed experiencing the main narrative voice in this book. Oskar is a precocious, curious young boy who, though it is never explicitly expressed, has evident autistic tendencies. Reading from his point of view was insightful and interesting, and – due to his innocence and frankness in the face of the trauma caused by the sudden death of his father and the acts of 9/11 – often extremely upsetting and hard hitting. The writing in the novel has a stream of consciousness feel with plenty of descriptions and Oskar’s wandering thoughts, which while not to everyone’s tastes, I thoroughly enjoyed. I thought this writing style added a lot to the story, and I found Oskar to be utterly convincing as a character.
The plot was not the forefront of the novel, and I wasn’t entirely invested in what was going to happen as I read. Nevertheless, it drove the story forward and, most importantly, it provided an excellent stage to really get to know Oskar and the side characters. It also dealt with the important topic of 9/11, and the significance of it, in a subtle way. I found the way that it wasn’t at the centre of the novel, but at the same time it still affected everything in the novel, to be a particularly refreshing take on the topic.
The best aspect of the book for me was how real and touching it felt. There were often moments throughout, between parents and children and also between lovers, that I really related with. Jonathan Safran Foer is brilliant at capturing the small but special, or even mundane or humorous, moments between people who care about each other, and he describes them perfectly. I often found myself reading passages and having to read them out loud to other people because they were so veracious. That is the sign of a truly special book.
Overall, this book is extremely witty and lovely, but at the same time deeply poignant. I found it to be really eye-opening, and believe Jonathan Safran-Foer is a truly brave and skillful writer – I would recommend anyone try reading this book.