I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

The first book review of Scuffed Granny – I would like it noted that I did not trawl through book titles in order to find a book that would lend a certain gravitas to my first blog. This really was the last book I read before starting this website.

Markus Zusak may be a name you are familiar with as he is more famously known as the author of “The Book Thief”, which is an excellent read if you have not discovered it to date. And, of course, having read “The Book Thief” and thoroughly enjoyed it, when I found this book in a thrift store in Calgary, despite the cartoonish playing card on the front (which confirms the old adage “Never judge a book by its cover”), I joyfully started reading it. And, I am relieved to say, I was not disappointed.

My actual copy – note cartoonish card figure
The plot

Set in a small town in Australia, Ed is a nineteen year old taxi driver who, along with his three mates, Audrey, Marv and Ritchie, are biding time before deciding what they really want out of life. In fact, it is clear that they are probably unaware of what they want and this accounts for their inertia. Ed’s life, in particular consists of driving his taxi, having abrupt phone conversations with his ma, meeting up with friends and talking to his dog, an old Rottweiler called, bizarrely, The Doorman. He is also hopelessly in love with Audrey.

When Ed stops a bank robber at the start of the book, this heralds a change that even he probably could never have foreseen. Whilst receiving the notoriety in the public newspaper and recognition on the street were givens, having playing cards delivered anonymously to his house with vague messages on them probably wasn’t.

Told in the first person, we follow Ed as he has to decide what to do with the information that is presented on the cards. He decides to act on snippets that the cards provide and realises that the choices that he makes when he embarks on these strange missions influence the lives of the people involved. He has to find out himself through observation and his internal instinct exactly what he is meant to do – is he a force for good and will he change people’s lives for the better or is he an instrument of someone’s whim and being played himself to no purpose?

Feel good book

What I really loved about this book is that it has a lot going on in it to make you think. Ed is loafing, waiting for life to come to him; he is in love with someone who he feels he will never be with; he has superficial relationships with many of the people around him – he can count on them but he doesn’t really know much about them on a deep level; he has no real idea of who he is or what he can be.

But when faced with something that is challenging, he finds himself. He steps up and as a result of becoming involved, being brave, putting himself out there – however you want to phrase it – his life becomes more tricky, yes, but it can be argued that it also becomes more fulfilling, more purposeful, more of a life.

Ed is not your typical hero – there is no transformation from weakling to strongman – but in the efforts that he displays in trying to help the people around him, he becomes a source of support and inspiration. There are a wide variety of people from all levels of society that Ed encounters through the playing cards, some strangers but some closer to him. As a result, his relationships improve as he approaches them with a willingness to engage with the people in his life and issues that they may have that they are also concealing, presenting, like Ed, a fa├žade to the world that protects them from scrutiny and explanation and ultimately, confronting the problems or unresolved elements that are disabling them.

I’m not going to go indepthly into all that happens in the book as that would defeat the idea of reviewing it – I want you to read it yourself. But I will just mention the story of Milla, an old lady who Ed observes and who lives her day to a routine, one where she eats and sits…and that’s pretty much it. No visitors, no distractions, just a life where the person is alive but not really living. And then Ed connects with her, visiting her and he discovers that she is waiting, expecting the arrival of her sweetheart, Jimmy who died in the war. She is so pleased when “Jimmy” turns up that Ed continues the deceit, seeing the pleasure that it gives her to reminisce and relive happier times, to cushion herself with memories and having the person who created that joy there with her.

The story of Milla resonated with me, hearing about all of these care homes where the elderly cannot receive visitors and have very little to make their days feel worthwhile. And there are many more really touching moments in this book, that show the kindness and humanity that is possible with just a little effort and I think that this is why I would recommend reading it. Let’s face it: in the world that we are currently living, there is much to be concerned about, whether political, environmental or viral. Physically travelling somewhere to escape and shift perspective is becoming increasingly difficult and unlikely so why not engage in escapism on a literary level? And this is just the book with which to do it.

2 thoughts on “I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

  1. I have to agree with you and say that my favourite part in the book was Ed’s relationship with Milla. alternatively I was a little creeped out by his relationship with Sophie.

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