On the strength of the two novels by Markus Zusak that I have read I would count this Australian author in any list of significant living writers. I waxed lyrical here about his “The Book Thief” (2007) one of my all-time favourite novels and his latest “Bridge Of Clay” (2018) is sat cosily at 8th place in my current end of year Top 10.
This book I have had on my shelves for some time. It is an earlier work aimed at the YA market (although like all Zusak it works well for an adult readership) and my reluctance to read it was because I did not want it to diminish the author’s reputation in my eyes. It does come with a pedigree, although something of a protracted one. Gaining much critical acclaim in his homeland where it is known as “The Messenger” it picked up a Children’s Book Council Of Australia Book Of The Year For Older Readers Award in 2003. Three years after that the US edition won the American Library Association’s Michael L Printz Award for Teenage Fiction and in 2007 it gained a major German children’s literature award. This is a slow burner of a book which has taken its time to get its presence felt.
I don’t think it has diminished Zusak’s reputation but it does feel very much a minor work compared to his others I have read. It is the work of a young author still learning the skills which will allow him to publish an all-time classic five years later. This is not a classic but a less polished entertaining read which shows once again Zusak’s skills as a story teller.
Its quirky opening places the main characters bang in the middle of a bank raid where whilst prostrate on the floor there’s much banter between 19 year old cabdriver Ed Kennedy and his three mates. A surprising act of heroism brings about media attention for Ed who soon afterwards is sent playing cards with cryptic messages for him to work out and deliver.
This is the story of how (not so much the why which I’m still slightly puzzled by) Ed carries out what is asked of him and learns much about himself along the way. Zusak’s writing style is chatty and endearing as Ed, in a first-person narrative, faces some difficult decisions, some disturbing violence and a spattering of praise working out his tasks. Some seem trivial, others life-changing for those involved but from each Ed, whose future had seemed mapped out due to a lack of ambition, a fractured family, unrequited love, a fondness for card games with his friends and caring for his elderly pungent dog, The Doorman, sees his life change.
Plot-wise there’s not the richness and depth I have come to associate with the author but in his creation of Ed as an everyday superhero Zusak is touching on very appealing YA themes. I’m not sure that the resolution was what I was expecting or hoping for but here we have a memorable character in a likeable work.
I Am The Messenger was first published in 2002. I read an American 2005 paperback edition published by Knopf. In the UK the most readily available version seems to be a paperback published by Definitions in 2015.