Review No.105 – The Borrower

The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai

William Heinemann, 2011

The restless daughter of Russian immigrants, raised on tales of rebellion and escape, Lucy Hull is a revolution waiting to happen disguised as a small-town children’s librarian. When her favourite patron, ten-year-old bookworm Ian Drake, runs away from his homophobic parents with the intent of living in the library, her anger at an unfair world reaches boiling point. Instead of taking him home, she runs away with him. Following his impromptu directions, spinning increasingly elaborate lies to hide their trail, the pair of modern-day American rebels head out in search of their own yellow brick road.

I think I chose to read this book just to see how that premise could possibly be resolved, though the mentions of a library and rebellion helped. It is a strange, dream-like piece of fiction that starts off well but keeps meandering off track with plot twists that don’t really go anywhere, and ends up bogged down in existentialist ennui. Lucy is an inconsistent narrator so riddled with self doubt it’s quite surprising when she actually does anything, which leaves most of the decision making to her far more believable, and likeable, travelling companion. The characters I most liked, her theatrical landlords, deserved twice as much time in the narrative as they received. To be honest, I would have preferred a book about them.

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