In a vase in a closet, a couple of years after his father died in 9/11, nine-year-old Oskar discovers a key…
The key belonged to his father, he’s sure of that. But which of New York’s 162 million locks does it open?
So begins a quest that takes Oskar — inventor, letter-writer and amateur detective — across New York’s five boroughs and into the jumbled lives of friends, relatives and complete strangers. He gets heavy boots, he gives himself little bruises and he inches ever nearer to the heart of a family mystery that stretches back fifty years. But will it take him any closer to, or even further from, his lost father?
First published: 2005
Extremely Loud & Incrediby Close by Jonathan Safran Foer is one of the most extraordinary books I’ve ever read, for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, it’s the only book I’ve read about the aftermath of 9/11 and, specifically, the aftermath for a family who has lost a member of it because of the disaster. I was quite young when 9/11 happened, but I remember it, and I’ve seen how the world has changed after it. Reading a book from the point of view of a little boy who has lost his father because of the tragedy that was (and is) 9/11 is really heartbreaking and confronting. I’ve read novels about the First and Second World Wars, and they are truly devastating, but it’s an entirely different reading experience when you can actually remember the day in your life the tragedy struck.
Secondly, the structure of the novel is quite unconventional. The novel is written mainly from the perspective of Oskar but there’s also a different perspective, and with that perspective a different storyline. The separate stories make for an interesting reading experience, since they don’t come together until (near) the end. What enhances this experience even more is the fact that the writing is interspersed with pictures and drawings. These images are of all kinds of different things Oskar encounters on his journey to find the story behind the key.
This brings me to the last reason this novel is so extraordinary, which is Oskar himself. Oskar is full of imagination, and isn’t just like any other nine-year-old boy. He has his own business card featuring the following “professions”:
Inventor, jewelry designer, jewelry fabricator, amateur entomologist, francophile, vegan, origamist, pacifist, percussionist, amateur astronomer, computer consultant, amateur archeologist, collector of: rare coins, butterflies that died natural deaths, miniature cacti, Beatles memorabilia, semiprecious stones, and other things.
But besides all these extraodinary hobbies and interests, and his intelligence, Oskar is also deeply hurt. He misses his father a lot, and you can safely say he is traumatised by his father’s death. It is heartbreaking to read about Oskar’s journey, his perseverance to get closer to his father again, and his inability to let go.
For me, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close wasn’t an easy read. It wasn’t a novel I just read in a few days of constant reading in my spare moments. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. It’s just that the different perspectives and the way they are written require some getting used to. In my opnion, the writing is really intelligent and beautiful but I can see why this might not be the case for everyone. The story, however, is absolutely marvellous, without a doubt.
I know I haven’t really talked about the plot in this review but that is because I don’t want to spoil this novel for anyone who still wants to read it (which I highly recommend doing!), and I think it could quite easily be spoiled.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close has also been adapted into a film featuring Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks. I’m always a bit hesitant when it comes to film adaptations of great novels but I really liked this film, even though it has gotten some bad reviews. I watched it right after I finished reading the book, though, so I was still in awe with the story, and hadn’t processed it yet. Perhaps I like the film less when I watch it again now. Or perhaps I just have different taste than some of those reviewers, who knows.