When I started working at the bookshop you can currently find me at, I was asked to send in a list of 6 of my all time loved reads ready for my ‘favourite’ shelf to be created. I was petrified thinking how my new colleagues would be looking at this list before they had even met me and these books would say something significant about me, like making a first impression with clothes, this felt much more important to me. I really spent hours thinking over this but I knew one author was going on there, Jonathan Safran Foer. His two novels, ‘Everything is Illuminated’ and ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’, have both left a real book shaped impression on my heart.
‘Everything is Illuminated’ has one chapter that moved me in a way a novel has rarely done, when a man is asked to point out his Jewish neighbours and friends to recently arrived Nazi soldiers, I have never felt like I was standing shoulder to shoulder with a character like I did in that scene. After I finished reading it I had to put the book down for a while to just get over it.
‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’, the book that became the chosen one to go on my favourites list, had me from the first to the last word. I often get upset by fiction but it is rare that I actually cry. Good god this book had me sobbing. I read this while working in an office and I used to walk in each morning beside myself after reading it on the journey in, my colleagues used to ask why on Earth I was reading a book that was leaving me this distraught and I would sniffle and sob that I had to because it was just so beautiful!
So you can imagine how delighted I was to hear that Safran Foer had a new novel coming out after a 10 year hiatus. Rumours were abound that this novel was really pushing him into the big leagues with the likes of Philip Roth, big in ambition and big in size, this is a book you could use for a weights session.
I got my mitts on ‘Here I Am’ the moment I could and settled down for what some were calling ‘the great divorce novel’ and others ‘the Israel novel’. We are introduced to the the Blochs, a family made up of Jacob, Julie and their three children, who are slowly imploding in a quiet, contained way – in direct contrast to the current situation in Israel, which is under siege from all angles after a giant earthquake causes political shock waves felt world wide. As usual with Safran Foer the prose is layered with meaning, the inner complexities of each character unfolding amongst the feelings they struggle to express through the words available to them.
The novel explores so many heavy topics that most authors would consider each individually a lot to cover in just the one text. Safran Foer does pull this off, with the couples relationship, parent and child dynamics, the destruction of Israel and the question over American Jewish identity all given the attention they require. With flawed characters the novel can be uncomfortably realistic at times, making you feel like a voyeur on a marriage that is trying to hide its secrets behind doors (or mobile passwords) and certainly does not suffer from the sacherine touch that some accused ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ of. The book is readable but it is going to make you ask questions and demand a concentration from you. I thoroughly enjoyed it but did find it a step away from his previous work. This is to be expected, a writer should grow and change and after all it has been ten years, I think this book is very much worth the read but I also cannot claim it has placed the stake in my book lovers heart as the previous two did.
‘Here I Am’ by Jonathan Safran Foer £20.00 (Hamish Hamilton)
Happy reading all!