Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai (3/5)

The back says: Lucy Hull, a young children's librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both kidnapper and kidnapped when her favourite patron, ten-year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy's help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in weekly anti-gay classes.

Lucy, a rebel at heart beneath her librarian's exterior, stumbles into a moral dilemma when she finds Ian camped out in the library after hours with a knapsack of provisions and an escape plan. Desperate to save him from the Drakes, Lucy allows herself to be hijacked by Ian. The odd pair embarks on an improvised road trip from Missouri to Vermont, with ferrets and an inconvenient boyfriend thrown in their path. Along the way, Lucy struggles to make peace with her Russian immigrant father and his fugitive past, and is forced to use his shady connections to escape discovery.

But is it just Ian who is running away? Who is the strange man on their tail? And should Lucy be trying to save a boy from his own parents?

I say: This sounded like it would be a good read since I read a review that it was a book about reading, which I adore. Unfortunately Makkai took it all so far I lost interest and in the end was just reading to get to the end, which is actually shame because I somehow feel like it could have been really good.

Initially I liked Lucy. She seemed easy-going enough without being flaky; a little witty and being inside her head space was pleasant. But then she finds Ian in the library, tries to take him home but he starts crying and making excuses and demands which she agrees to. This is where the story lost me the first time because I refuse to believe that anyone, let alone a 26 year-old librarian, would cave to the demands of a ten-year-old and take him out of his town, his state, and beyond.

The road trip itself was highly unbelievable. And yes, I know that this is fiction, but even so. The characters were all a farce, even the father – and I actually liked him – in fact, I may have to go so far as to say that the entire novel was a farce because then I wouldn't be as annoyed with it.

But somehow I don't think so.

That narrator that suddenly popped up out of nowhere to let us know how much they'd eaten over the week. That whole Christian anti-gay priest and nonsense. The guy in a suit with dark glasses that was following them. The fact that she was seriously contemplating taking the boy with her over the border to Canada.


I honestly think that Lucy had some kind of mental instability because her reasoning capacity was just not all there.

What I did like about this was the father and his stories about Russia (since I’m obsessed with that country), and I liked the end. Not just because it ended, but Makkai did write something there that I have thought a lot about myself and therefore resonated with me.

“I'd wanted, in those later lists, to include something more directly helpful, some books that would tell a sixteen-year-old how to reason with the father who wanted to throw him out, or the mother who insisted he was going to hell – but all I knew were novels. It gave me pause, for a moment, that all my reference points were fiction, that all my narratives were lies.” - p 319
I wanted to give this nothing out of five since Makkai gave away the ending of two novels I haven't read yet, but that would just be petty. I do like the way she writes; very humorous at times, and it's a shame that the story was so implausible.


  1. I really wanted to read this but your review has made me reconsider/shift it lower on my TBR list. Which two novels were spoiled?

  2. Well, it has gotten great reviews so far, and if this type of story is your thing, you'll enjoy it. It just wasn't for me - I like my fiction to have a point and I could find none in this.

    And she ruined Anna Karenina (which was meant to be my next read, but I scooted it down the list) and Ulysses (which I've wanted to read since I heard the Franz Ferdinand song).