Book Review: The Messenger by Markus Zusak

The Messenger…

About the Book:

Meet Ed Kennedy – cab driving prodigy, pathetic card player and useless at sex (self-proclaimed). He lives in a suburban shack, shares coffee with his dog, the Doorman, and he’s in nervous love with Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence – until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.

That’s when the first Ace turns up.

That’s when Ed becomes the messenger.

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town, helping and hurting (where necessary) until only one question remains. Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

Protect the diamonds, survive the clubs, dig deep through spades, feel the hearts… The Messenger is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists and love.

My Thoughts:

There’s a story as to why I’ve read The Messenger at this point in time, and it’s only partially to do with my book bingo category of ‘read a book that is more than 10 years old’. Truth is, I had never read a Markus Zusak novel before now. I’ll let that rest with you for a moment, I know, it’s almost un-Australian of me. Not even The Book Thief. Yep. That’s right. Even my daughter, who hardly ever reads, loves The Book Thief. It’s like the only book she has read more than once. It’s almost the only book she has read at all. So when fellow reviewers started reading and talking about Bridge of Clay, Markus’s long awaited new release, I started getting messages from them asking me what I thought, how was I going with it, did I agree about this or that. I had to admit, with a certain amount of bracing, that I, well, I just wasn’t going to read it because, you know, (at this point my voice would lower to a whisper as I uttered those last words) I don’t read Zusak. To their credit, they all still speak to me. Two friends, one of whom is also a reviewer, were not having a bar of this. You have to read Zusak, they said, but start with The Messenger. Now, I just want to clarify, that these two friends don’t know each other, but they both said pretty much the same thing to me. Eerily coincidental. I ordered a copy of The Messenger and here I am, no longer free of Zusak. My life will never be quite the same.

The Messenger is brilliant. There’s probably not a whole lot I could add to the existing commentary about The Messenger. It was published in 2002 and there are so many reviews out there written about it and so many online discussions about the ending. It’s got a feel to it that I really love. Through Ed, you slide into this existence of ordinariness that is so Australian and so very familiar. It’s funny, it’s tragic, it’s suspenseful, it’s romantic, it’s sometimes utterly ridiculous. I loved every single word of it. To me, The Messenger encompasses everything we need to know about being a decent human being. It may have been published 16 years ago, but its message is just as valid, if not more so, today. As we bump along in life, wrapped up in our dramas, increasingly isolating ourselves with our technology, we need to remember that there is validity in human connection. In taking notice, reaching out, and making a difference, even if it’s just in giving someone an ice-cream or really listening to what a person has to say. The small things can weigh in just as much as the big things. We need to avoid falling into the trap of never asking, never looking, and never listening. Ed put in me in mind of a guardian angel, but for Ed, being the messenger was not his only task, because as the novel progresses, it becomes apparent that there was a message hidden in there for Ed as well.

‘Already, I know that all of this will stay with me forever. It’ll haunt me, but I also fear it will make me feel grateful. I say fear because at times I really don’t want this to be a fond memory until it’s over. I also fear that nothing really ends at the end. Things just keep going, as long as memory can wield its axe, always finding a soft part in your mind to cut through and enter.’

The ending is rather powerful, but many don’t like it, and equally as many freely admit they don’t get it. I want to talk about the ending but without giving it away. Markus uses metafiction to pull off his ending, and for me, it really worked. But I had to think about it for a while, let it really sink in, because it re-orders everything about the novel and pushes the reader into a zone that they may not have inhabited before. In a nutshell, metafiction is fiction that is not only aware of its construction as a fiction, but also makes outright reference to that fact. The goal is to make the reader uncomfortable and question the line that exists between the fictional realm within the text and the world he or she inhabits. Supernatural, the TV show, does metafiction really well – and once again I am able to demonstrate that all things can be clarified with an example from Supernatural, ha! They’ve had several episodes across the seasons where Sam and Dean are parodied, even one that went so far as to have them pretending to be in a movie playing characters with their own real life names. And then there’s the well known storyline where they meet an author writing Supernatural fan fiction with events happening as the author writes them within the show. Confused? Sorry, it’s hard to explain but works well when you see it. In books, it’s obviously a bit more tricky. Nicholas Sparks used metafiction in the prologue and epilogue of his latest release, Every Breath. It didn’t work as well for me as what Markus Zusak has done here in The Messenger, but still, it’s a good example of the author placing themselves within their own text. Atonement is another example of metafiction in literature – a very good example although it has its haters as well. Anyway, I’m going on a bit here so I’ll get to the point. I like the ending of The Messenger. For me, it makes the whole point of the novel, the idea that we can all make a difference, no matter who we are, simply from observing and reaching out, all the more present. By suspending the fictional element through the use of metafiction, Markus is demonstrating that what Ed did, need not exist only in fiction. It can crossover into the real world. We too can be messengers. It doesn’t get more profound than that.

‘But just remember that I was the one – not him – who gave life to these pages.’

To finish up, I just want to pay homage to The Doorman. Best stinky ice-cream eating coffee drinking loyal dog ever.


About the Author:

Markus Zusak was born in 1975 and is the author of five books, including I am the Messenger and the international bestseller, The Book Thief, which is translated into more than forty languages. He lives in Sydney with his wife and two children.

The Messenger
First published in 2002 by Pan Macmillan Australia

25 thoughts on “Book Review: The Messenger by Markus Zusak

  1. Haha, Theresa, this made me laugh. I haven’t read The messenger, but I have read The book thief. And I did love it. The voice, the warmth of the characters, are just so engaging. However, that doesn’t mean I’m going to jump to read everything he writes. For some reason I’m not that kind of reader – unless a new Austen were to be found of course. These days, knowing I’ll never get to read every book I want to read, I tend to go for diversity, to read a book by an author I haven’t read before. If Bridge of Clay were scheduled by my reading group, I’d read it in a flash, but otherwise, I may or may not BUT I will always have The book thief!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve become a little that way myself, I want to read everything by certain authors but practicality wins out. Although, Austen doesn’t count here, I agree. All of her novels are essential.
      In terms of Markus, I have been told all his novels are very different from each other but I’d say that voice you mention and the warmth of the characters are a common ingredient. I loved this so much about The Messenger.


  2. Oops and I meant to make a point about metafiction. Two novels that I love that use this device are Atonement and Life of Pi. I know people who hated these books – and usually for precisely this reason. The endings of both these books made me laugh (not in a haha way, but in a “ah so” or “you got me” way). I think some readers do not like their fictional world to upended, they want to get lost in the world and, in a sense, believe it. One friend of mine hates the author lording it over the reader as she puts it – I can pretty much pick the books she won’t like. Whereas I usually love seeing the author’s hand in a book, I love thinking about the author’s mind guiding it and if this comes out in a metafictional way I usually like it (unless the book itself is ordinary, clumsy, boring.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good review Theresa. I was thinking about getting my hands on a copy and then read Bridge of Clay instead. As a Book Thief fan, I was looking forward to his latest very much. I suspect I am in a minority when I say I was underwhelmed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m interested in what you say about your friends’ campaign to make you read Zusak. (I’ve read The Book Thief but I would never say he is a must-read).
    This is so like my own experiences with colleagues at work, though alas, without the same pleasing outcome. (You must read The Da Vinci Code, you must read XYZ crime/fantasy novel). LOL You’ll need to be careful now that you’ve proved them right, they’re going to demand you read all kinds of things!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been really cautious about this too, because the last book I read that was ‘highly recommended’ to me by work colleagues was The Girl on the Train. It remains to this day the worst book I’ve ever read. Thank goodness The Messenger was at the opposite end of the spectrum! But I’ll remain cautious! I’ve found that on the whole, my tastes vary widely from most of my colleagues.


  5. Hmmm I’ll think about reading this down the track. I did borrow it as an audio book, but didnt like the narrator so didn’t get past the first chapter before returning it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just can’t get into audio books. I’ve tried, but they’re just not for me. The best example of this is when I started to listen to The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. It was so drab and boring, so I switched to the book, and it remains one of my favourite reads. It was magical. I think you’d like this book a lot. Keep it on the back burner!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, this is the first audio book I’ve listened to. I tried a few previously but, like you, I couldn’t abide the narrator. I find this happens with audio meditations too; I’m quite intolerant of mouth sounds etc lol. However, I love this narrator and will even look out for other books narrated by him.
      How funny!
      PS I love this book so much. I have 30mins left to go. Will miss Ed very much.
      PPS Will read The book thief one day.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I confess. I haven’t read Zusak…yet. I have The Book Thief. It’s been on my shelf for quite some time and one day I’ll get around to reading it. I am curious as to why your friends suggested to begin with The Messenger. Loved the Supernatural reference – always relevant!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great review Theresa, and I’m secretly hoping I was one of the two readers who suggested you might like The Messenger. I was really moved by it and loved the meta fiction ending; I definitely didn’t see it coming. You summed it up better than I could without giving any spoilers, and hopefully you’ve inspired new readers to give it a chance. Having read this, The Book Thief and Bridge of Clay, this is definitely his best in my opinion. I’m so glad you enjoyed it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Top 6 Markus Zusak Books From Australia (Author of The Book Thief)

  9. First-
    My Thoughts: Others say that the ending had ruined the novel for them, because the main character was shown to just be a character, however, that’s not how I interpreted it. As someone who reads books that break the fourth wall more than they write “the”, I think that this ending shows the opposite. The author (in the book) said that Ed is most definitely real, and Ed too, says that he gave meaning to the book. I believe that he is not “merely” a character, but that his life was recorded (whether or not he is actually a real person in our world).

    Recommendation: At the end, I was really surprised to see that this book had become so fourth wall-breaking, but it still fits. Anyway, a book that breaks the fourth wall, but gives meaning to the characters just as well as this (in my opinion, way better than this), is the book Omniscient Reader’s Viewpoint. I recommend you read it (the novel, not manga) if you want something like The Messenger’s ending.

    Liked by 1 person

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