The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai

I really try to tone down and contain the amount of times I say ‘oh I’ve read the most amazing book, you must read it’ either on this blog or out in the real world. One such book is ‘The Borrower’ by Rebecca Makkai which after finishing I wanted to almost scream ‘read this now’ to everyone I passed. This feeling can fade but several weeks on I am now going to urge you all to ‘get this book now’.

William Heinemann, trade paperback, 2011, fiction, 336 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I would imagine that if I mentioned the words ‘road trip’ in context with a setting of a book it might put some people off. In fact it would probably put me off if I heard that same description. Yet ‘The Borrower’ is a road trip upon which ten year old Ian and his local librarian Lucy find themselves on after they accidentally kidnap each other. Sounds bonkers (current favourite word) doesn’t it, but it’s just brilliant.

Lucy, as she likes to remind herself and us, is not your typical librarian. In fact she’s an accidental one in a small town called Hannibal. As the person in charge of the children’s section she meets ten year old Ian, a bookaholic and slightly precocious boy who everyone believes is ‘already on his way up the yellow brick road’. It’s his melodramatic nature and bookish addiction (which also reminded me of me aged ten, and now at twenty nine, ha) that leads his parents to believe the same, something which won’t do and their religious views won’t permit, so they start to send him to classes that stop people being, or possibly being gay. When Lucy learns of this and Ian runs away, to the library, the pair become caught up in a mutual kidnapping and running away drama that spirals further and further out of control.

This also a book about books and anyone who enjoys reading them. It’s this love of books that makes this unlikely duo become such friends, add in Lucy’s outrage when Ian’s mum comes with a list of books he can’t read and demands books with ‘the breath of god in them’. It also made me really nostalgic of the books I loved as a kid and those precious visits to the library.

‘Somewhere on Route 80: “Let’s talk about books.”
“That’s a great idea. Okay, books. What’s the next thing you want to read?”
“Well I think I want to read The Hobbit. This one guy, Michael, in this class I go to, he said it was very good. Have you ever read it?”
“You haven’t read The Hobbit?” I practically screamed at him, missing my chance to talk about his “class”. Of course he hadn’t read it, I realized. He wasn’t allowed to read books with wizards. Not real wizards, at least. Oz the Great and Terrible was probably only acceptable for being a humbug. I said “Once we’re back in Hannibal, I’ll check it out for you.” But I really couldn’t envisage a scenario anymore when both of us would be back in Hannibal and I’d still have my job and Ian would gallop down the steps everyday to see me. “So you said your friends name was Michael. Is he your age?”
“Yeah. But that’s not really what I meant by talking about books. I mean fun stuff, like if you go to heaven and it turns out that one of the things you can do there is you can be anyone in any book, whenever you want to, but you can only choose one person, who would you pick?”‘

Rebecca Makkai is certainly a big fan of books of all genres, this adds to her prose and not just in the words and descriptions she uses but also the style. We have a letters and one of Ian’s short stories interspersed in some chapters, there are also chapters in the style of other books such as ‘Choose Your Own Fiasco’ where Lucy gives you her current scenario and you have to decide for her by going to ‘number three or go to number five’ like those quest books I used to read. It’s a really inventive way of writing the book, there is even a table or two in there, and adding another dimension to the whole experience of reading, in some books this doesn’t work, in this one it did.

I could go on and on, in fact how have I missed the story of Russia’s history which is part of the book through Lucy’s father? Instead I will simply, yet strongly, suggest you read ‘The Borrower’ it’s a funny, moving and thoroughly enjoyable book and one which is going straight into my top five of the year.

14 Comments

Filed under Books of 2011, Rebecca Makkai, Review, William Heinemann Books

14 responses to “The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai

  1. Well you are NOT the first to make me want to read this book of course, but you might be the one who finally tips the scales. It has sounded lovely since the beginning and one day I will get around to it. (I’m a librarian.) Also, hello, we’re the same age!🙂

    • Oh I do so hope I tipped the scales Julia as it is such a wonderful book (or you might have been a winner – I need to do the drawer today) it is without doubt one of my favourite books of the year.

  2. Thanks for an enthusiastic review

  3. I loved this – I read about it on Cornflower’s blog and had to buy it, as after all I am a librarian. It was such a good tale!

  4. It sounds great, Simon. I have a copy in the TBR so will look forward to reading it at some point. (I just had a big clear out of the TBR and offloaded about 200 books — fortunately I kept this one!)

    • Yes it is indeed fortunate that you kept this one, its definitely a book for anyone who loves books, which of course you do. I also liked the fact it was quite humourous and yet very poigniant.

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