The Messenger - Markus Zusak

This book has also been published as I Am The Messenger.

Our protagonist, Ed Kennedy is no-one’s idea of a hero. He drives a taxi, owns a dog that smells like Foul Ole Ron from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld [1], plays cards with his friends, and argues with his mother. He is in love with one of his closest friends, Audrey, but is so far into the “friend zone” that he’s too nervous to tell her about it [2]. Ed is in fact “the epitome of ordinariness” - until he (for reasons he doesn’t even know) stops a bungled bank robbery. That’s when he starts receiving cards in the mail. Not greeting cards, but actual playing cards with cryptic messages on them.

I’ve been reading some fairly average books recently, so when I finished reading The Messenger this morning, I was so blown away by it that I almost fell over myself when running to the computer to write this review. I picked up The Messenger at a library book sale, simply because it was by Markus Zusak – the author of The Book Thief, which I hope to review at a later date. I’m very glad that I did, because this book is brilliant.

The book is divided into four parts, representing the four suits of playing cards. Each part begins with an image of the Ace that Ed receives, complete with messages. This allows the reader to become closer to the story, as they’re reading about and viewing the cards with Ed at the same time. The really cool thing about the chapters in each section is that they correspond with the suits of each part, from Ace through to King. For example, if the part is about the Ace of Clubs, chapter 8 looks like this:

The cards and their suits play a significant part in the novel, so I’m not going to spoil it for you now.

The character development in The Messenger is quite interesting. As it is written from a first-person perspective, we can see Ed’s internal growth as the novel progresses. However, it is only in the final part of the book that we are given a deep insight into his friends, who up until that point are not seen as in-depth characters.

At various points, the people that Ed encounters are treated as being integral to his life. Even more so more so than his immediate circle of friends. This provides a contrast between Ed’s life before, and after the arrival of the cards. It is therefore made easier for us to measure his development against the backdrop of friends that haven’t changed during the course of the story.

I don’t generally wax lyrical about the author’s style of writing, but I’ll make an exception for The Messenger. The imagery is phenomenal, not only because it’s so evocative, but because it also manages to capture Ed’s perception of world so perfectly. The crudities throughout the novel are in contrast to the otherwise flowing prose, which strips any pretension from Zusak’s writing.

As you can see, I can’t begin to describe Zusak’s style properly, so I’ll make it easy for all of us by quoting some of the text instead:

‘Business no good lately?’ I ask.
‘The truth?’ The glass in his eyes breaks and punctures me. ‘Shithouse’.

The most interesting person I pick up is a prostitute-looking woman who sits in the front. Her body is hard. Physical. Her hair waves at me and her mouth is beautiful, though her teeth are ugly. Her words are blond and sweet. She ends all sentences with an endearment.

The street’s a complete shocker and has always been renowned for it. It’s a place of broken roof tiles, broken windows, and broken people.

He has blue eyes the colour of fresh toilet water, and a dozen or so freckles flung across his face.
Oh, and one other thing -
He’s a complete bastard.

The next part of this review contains spoilers about the end of the novel – so I suggest that you read the book before viewing it. If you don’t want to wait, consider yourself warned!

Click here to view spoilers.

One of the things that can really spoil a book is the ending. I’ve seen countless instances where an otherwise fantastic book dies horribly because the author has chosen the easy way out. I refer to the type of ending when the author believes that a good twist would be to reveal that they were the protagonist all along. In my opinion, this technique rarely works well. It mostly gives me the feeling that the author is shouting “Look at me! Look at me!” to distract the reader from the lack of a good twist.

I can count on one hand the books I’ve read that use this technique to give a twist to the end that is also satisfying. Fortunately for us The Messenger does this very well. I’m not going to go into detail about what exactly is written, but I can assure you that the ending is just as good as the rest of the book.

You can see why I’m totally entranced by The Messenger. I hope that you will be too.


[2] The friend zone is the point in a relationship where someone says the dreaded words “I like you, but only as a friend”. It is very difficult to build any sort of romantic relationship when you’re stuck in the friend zone.

0 comments, please comment here: