Hope you’re all well this beautiful August day. I’m back into the swing of things reading wise so I thought I would post a review of a book I’ve finished reading: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. This was quite a quick read as I managed to finish it in three days. I’ve surprised myself with that one. I was thinking that my brain wouldn’t let me read much!
What’s it all about?
The novel is narrated by nine year old protagonist, Oskar Schell. He is grieving the loss of his father, Thomas, who was killed in the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001. The consequence of this for Oskar is that he feels angry and depressed as well as being distant with his mother. Essentially, Oskar is afraid of everything.
“Why didn’t I learn to treat everything like it was the last time. My greatest regret was how much I believed in the future.”
However, Oskar has a terrible secret that he shares with the reader. When he returned home from school on September 11th, he listened to the voicemails left by his father whilst he was inside the burning World Trade Center. On the final call, Oskar fails to pick up the phone as he was too afraid. The line goes dead. Oskar feels so guilty that he hid the answering machine and hasn’t told anyone about the messages.
“My life story is the story of everyone I’ve ever met.”
In the not too distant future, Oskar finds a key inside a vase within his father’s closet. Along with the key, there is a little envelope with the word ‘Black’ on it. Oskar deduces that this must be a name and he makes the decision to track down every person in New York with that last name, Black.
It is whilst Oskar takes this mission that he meets a range of different characters e.g. Abby that I found quite relatable. Yet non of them know anything about the key. A Mr. Black, first name unknown, has not left his apartment for 24 years, agrees to help Oskar on his search. Over the course of eight months, he visits all of the Blacks in all the boroughs.
Oskar visits his Grandma’s apartment and talks to her allusive renter, who unknown to Oskar, is his grandfather. We are told how years earlier, Oskar’s grandfather had abandoned his grandmother when she became pregnant with Oskar’s father. Following the events of WW2, where he consequently lost everyone he loved, he decided he couldn’t bear loving anyone again. He did write letters to his son throughout his life, yet never posted them. Sadly, he returned to America before September 11th to reunite with his family, but it was too late to meet his son, Oskar’s dad. As a result, he moves back in with his grandma; a relationship that appears as rather strange to Oskar.
“I missed you even when I was with you. That’s been my problem. I miss what I already have, and I surround myself with things that are missing.”
Oskar discloses his story about his dad and the search to the renter. Whilst this is ongoing, Oskar checks his phone and sees that he has a message from Abby Black, the second Black he spoke to. Abby knows who or what the key belongs to: her husband’s father’s safe deposit box. This is anticlimactic for Oskar and he is disappointed that the key had very little to do with his own dad. He decides to return the key to William.
“So many people enter and leave your life! Hundreds of thousands of people! You have to keep the door open so they can come in! But it also means you have to let them go!”
Whilst this is happening and Oskar’s search is ongoing, his mother never asks where he is going. It is finally revealed at the end of the novel that she has known the whole time. Once she gained this knowledge, she called every person and explained what Oskar was up to, before he got there.
When his search ended in bitter disappointment, Oskar decides to dig up his father’s empty coffin and asks the renter for help. Together, they go to the cemetery. The renter brings two suitcases with him filled with all the unsent letters he wrote to his son. The renter decides to fill the empty coffin with these letters. This seems to be a turning point for Oskar, who is now able to move forward from his grief and loss. Importantly, he reconnects with his mother.
To conclude, in a long letter from Grandma to Oskar, we discover that Grandpa and Grandma grew up in Dresden, Germany and both survived the firebombing of the city. However, neither of their families did. Grandma knew deep down that Grandpa was in love with her sister, Anna, but she married him anyway. She accepts that fact when he comes back to her on September 11th because she doesn’t want to be alone. When he tries to leaves her again, they decide to live at the airport together.
“There were things I wanted to tell him. But I knew they would hurt him. So I buried them, and let them hurt me.”
Oskar is back to square one. He’s failed to find any conclusions about his Dad. The novel ends with a series of pictures of a man falling to his death from the World Trade Center. Oskar decides to flip them so the man falls up the building. Therefore, imagining his Dad is safe.
“I like to see people reunited, I like to see people run to each other, I like the kissing and the crying, I like the impatience, the stories that the mouth can’t tell fast enough, the ears that aren’t big enough, the eyes that can’t take in all of the change, I like the hugging, the bringing together, the end of missing someone.”
I really enjoyed this book and I was surprised how quickly I managed to get through it. I had a tear at the end because I was incredibly moved by the content and plot. I tried to put myself in Oskar’s shoes; to feel what he felt throughout this novel. I am a firm believer that all novels have the ability to teach us something. This taught me that we can always feel pain and sometimes we are desperate for answers that just are not there. It’s really easy for us to look into things and make assumptions, like Oskar and the key. I’m not ashamed to say that this book broke my heart a little bit, possibly because of Oska’s narration and because I can remember 9/11 like it was yesterday. I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing at the time. This gave me some form of personal response or relationship with this book.
Keep reading guys! Enjoy August.
Big love xx