The Messenger, another impressive and unique novel from Markus Zusak, is not your ordinary card game. Rather, a near impossible quest to not only deliver messages, but to survive and embody their very meaning. The Messenger looks at human behavior at its best and worst, and is a confronting and truthful look at ‘ordinary’ life.
Ed Kennedy is the epitome of ordinariness; he lives a life of boredom, unfulfilled and monotonous. The problems start when Ed witnesses, and spontaneously stops, a bank robbery. The useless gunman is dragged off to a year in prison screaming death threats after Ed, promising that every time he looks in the mirror he will see a dead man. That’s when the first ace arrives.
What happens next is a journey to decipher the cards and against all odds help a whole community of individuals in families, all with problems of their own. Ed is confronted with unimaginable tasks and relationships, transforming him beyond recognition and almost killing him in the process. But through the love, hate and pain he experiences, he never wavers in his ‘nervous love’ for Audrey.
This is a very well-written and gripping novel, formatted as a deck of playing cards; each chapter is a card and each part a suit. This in itself really interested me; the tension grew as I reached the Jack of each suit, knowing there were only a few chapters left for Ed to deliver his precious messages to those who needed them most. But to be honest, I found that the early cards of each suit were often slow in terms of action, and I really wanted Ed to get on with confronting the messages he had to deliver. However this is most likely done for a good reason. Ed feels lost in these chapters, and so should the reader.
The characters in this book were quite incredible. In each suit the reader is introduced to three new messages and the people they must be delivered to. Each character is unique and colorful. Zusak has created an intricately woven community of individuals and families, each with detailed stories that are entirely realistic. The town of characters ranged from lonely old ladies to abusive husbands, to weary mothers and beautiful girls who just need someone to believe in them.
The plot is very complicated, weaving clues, places and people together, all leading back to one very confused and tired Ed. Ed was a likeable character from the beginning, pathetic, funny and brutally honest. I was immediately sympathetic to his plight and wanted, almost as much as he did, for his relationship with Audrey to work out. In the end I was rewarded with a happy and life affirming ending, yet I was hopelessly confused about what had actually happened. Zusak does his best to reveal the motivation and technicalities behind the aces and their deliverer, but I really didn’t understand how it was all possible. If you have read the book and do understand how they could have engineered Ed’s entire life, please let me know!
Regardless, this is a brilliant novel that will make you sit up and think about how you contribute to society. Due to its heavy content, mature themes and a little bit of swearing, it would best be enjoyed by older teenagers and adults. I cannot recommend this book enough; it is not only entertaining, but carries a very important message.