The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai

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The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: A rather precocious ten year old boy devours books like sweets. His second home is the local library and he strikes up a funny sort of friendship with the Head of the Children's Section, Lucy but then their friendship takes a turn for the worse ...
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 336 Date: July 2011
Publisher: William Heinemann Ltd
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0434021000

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I read the front cover blurb and didn't quite get it She borrowed a child. He stole her. I don't mind 'not getting it' in the slightest as it just makes me want to read the book even more. So I was keen to get stuck into this debut novel.

The title is apt - as The Borrower is the lovable little boy called Ian but there's also another reason which becomes clear as the story develops. At the regular reading sessions down at the library (somewhere in Missouri) Ian soon comes across as the star pupil. He seems to eat books for breakfast. He can't stuff enough of them into his rucksack. But there's a problem. His rather neurotic mother is strict on her parenting duties and she only allows Ian to read certain books. The boring kind, he thinks. Ian's clever though (possibly helped by all that reading he does) so enlists the help of a friendly member of the library staff in his quest to read 'more interesting' books.

Enter twentysomething Lucy who's Head of the Children's Section. She's lukewarm about her chosen profession and on a bad day she can't help wondering how she ended up in a sleepy backwater town surrounded by kids all day long. Ian is a little star. His many sayings and observations that he'll burst out with are endearing - and often funny. It's clear that Lucy is smitten by her favourite 'borrower.'

Makkai has some nice humorous lines here and there. For example, there's a lovely piece involving Ian's mother and one of the librarians. Mixed messages and crossed wires, ago-go. Great stuff. And a nice running theme throughout is the mention of many well-known children's books. A comprehensive reading list could be compiled here with no problem.

The story comes to a head and starts 'proper', if you get my drift, when Lucy decides that Ian is not being properly taken care of at home. She knows it's none of her business - but still, she worries. There's a rather bizarre (to my mind) angle on homosexuality but I suppose it serves its purpose in that it puts Lucy over the top in the worrying stakes. Something's got to be done. So she does it. Tagging along Ian. Well, he's almost like a surrogate son.

The story then takes on the flavour of a children's story in that it involves a great deal of unexpected (but necessary) travel, unusual and hurried meetings with various grown-ups and sometimes adorable/frightening animals. Okay, all of this probably plays into the overall theme but it just didn't work all that well for me. It all seemed a bit over the top, a bit muddled, a bit dis-jointed - and a bit unnecessary. What most certainly did not work for me was that it was totally unbelievable. If that's the point then I think it a poor one for adult fiction. The magic did not happen for me on any level. In fact, I found the second part of the book particularly dull and plodding in the narration. To be fair though, there are some short pieces here and there which are good and which worked really well, but they were in short supply so overall my lasting impression is one of lack of lustre and lack of sparkle, I'm afraid.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might like to try Songs for the Butcher's Daughter by Peter Manseau.

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