Three Cheers for New Releases: My Thoughts on Rebecca Makkai, The Borrower

Title: The Borrower
Author: Rebecca Makkai
Publisher: Viking
Date: 2011
Genre: Adult fiction with some mystery elements

324 pages.
Where I got it: From the publisher, via Shelf Awareness
Challenges: None

Rebecca Makkai's delightful little book, The Borrower, came out this Tuesday and I planned to have a review up, but my internet is being extra-awesome and only working occasionally.  I keep thinking it is our crazy windy weather here in AZ, but now I'm just rambling.  I admit it; I judge books by their covers, and I thought this one was lovely.  And how could I possibly resist the allure of a book about a children's librarian, filled with references to treasured childhood reads?  I couldn't.

I've read mixed reviews of this book so far (although I didn't read any before I started reading) and, at first, I was a little nervous that my review wouldn't be all glowing.  I found the premise- a librarian kidnapping a young patron and taking him on a whirlwind tour of Midwest- to be a little bit beyond the believable.  I also opened to a random page in the middle of the book, only to find some cheesy metaphors that didn't work for me.  However, I still wanted to give the book a chance, and so I did, and boy am I glad that I did.

Lucy Hull, Makkai's protagonist, is a reluctant librarian.  Her Russian immigrant parents will give her anything, but all she wants is to be left alone, so she takes the job that she thinks will most likely land her the furthest from her parents' ambitions: in a library in Hannibal, MO (Mark Twain's birth place, incidentally).  She is a likeable narrator, who also likes books.  In fact, there are short, playful chapters interspersed throughout the book that pay homage to the classics of children's literature that she loves and that she sees as tools to help her young patron, Ian Drake, escape his not-ideal reality (it occurs to me the appropriateness of this release in light of the YA SAVES campaign happening on Twitter over the past few weeks). Ian is a precocious young reader, whose parents try to suppress in numerous ways. I think many readers will see their younger selves in Ian, for whom books make up the world.

In an interview at The Millions, Makkai claims that her two biggest influences--from the world of adult literature-- in writing The Borrower were The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Lolita. Although as a student of Literature, the parallels to Twain should have been the more obvious to me (after all, both novels begin in Hannibal, and both involve runaway boys), I heard the echoes of Nabokov at a much higher volume throughout my read.  For me, the quintessence of Lolita is the romanticized landscape of the literary that provides the setting for Nabokov's twisted road trip.  And Lucy and Ian's road trip is twisted too, even if Lucy's motivations are miles from Humbert's.  And the narrators, criminals that they are, end in the same place (sort of), in exile, while their victims (definitely in Lo's case, less so in Ian's) grow up. 

The book does have moments that feel a little bit gimmicky, but mostly I found them charming.  I would definitely recommend this book and the summer release time is perfect.  For a fun, playful read, add it to your beach bag.


  1. A book about books is right up my alley.

    Thanks for reviewing this one.

  2. @Jennifer: You bet. I am always up for a book about books.

  3. I went to a panel with her a couple weeks back and had her sign my copy. She's one of my favorite short story authors (I think she's been picked for the Best American Short Stories 4 years in a row now). Can't wait to start in on this book next week!

  4. @Natalievintagegirl: I thought it was. Thanks for stopping by.

    @Short Story Slore: I've heard really good things about her short stories. Hope you enjoy the novel.


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