Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

9780141341934Okay. Jonathan Safran Foer: critically acclaimed for his 2002 novel Everything Is Illuminated is, and rightly so a very successful writer. Style sells. It’s edgy and post-modern and suitable for cinema. All in all he’s a people’s writer, and the people he’s writing for are those pining for this post-modern ideology. It’s perhaps true that he is a skilled writer with imagination and unique and interesting ideas. However, this unfortunately doesn’t save him from Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

Extremely Loud has a problem in my eyes and that is that pure and simply it has been over thought. We follow nine year old protagonist Oskar Schell; he is easily the most interesting character in the book. This child takes it upon himself to find a lock which fits a key, which he found in a vase on on the top shelf of a wardrobe in his parents’ bedroom, a year or so after his father died in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre. An interesting concept and one which certainly makes for a good story. If only this novel was a story. There is a story in there… somewhere… and it seems to be banging on the door to be let out, the only problem is that every few pages you get a scribble, or a picture of a doorknob, or a page which only had four words written on it, or a page from a pen testing notepad in an art shop – to name a few examples. The fact of the matter is that regardless how relevant these things are to the story; they get in the way of it. Yes, it does the job nicely of putting you behind Oskar’s eyes, seeing everything beyond a typical first person narrative by making the book seem more tactile. It also pulls you out of the flow of the story, as you meander over four pages of felt tip scrawled names, you get back into it having immediately forgotten what happened before.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I can deal with a book which jumps around on its own timeline. What I don’t like is when its timeline gets distorted by the text itself. The pictures confused me. Not because I didn’t understand them, some where vaguely relevant, some were extremely relevant, but a lot were gratuitous. The point the pictures made was lost on me relatively early on. It smacks of arrogance. the same problem can be seen with the title. I am fond of when an author uses a title which is taken from the text itself. Safran Foer takes it upon himself to allude to the title at least once per chapter, spurring many reviewers to copy his ‘extremely’ -adjective- and ‘incredibly’ -adjective- format. It seems almost impossible not to. The title is alluded to constantly; sometimes something is described as extremely loud, sometimes as incredibly close, sometimes as extremely sad and incredibly alone. It’s overdone. It’s so overdone it’s turned from the nice plump sausagey metaphor it could have been to a lump of charcoal you could write your name with (and believe me, I wouldn’t have put it past Safran Foer to put a sausage-charcoal written name on any page in this book).

Defying convention is fine, but this is scrunching convention into a ball, spitting on it and kicking it into the neighbour’s garden. This book is overrated, but what irks me more is that the reason it’s overrated is because the story is overshadowed by extremely overdone and incredibly unnecessary (oh come on I couldn’t resist!) attempts to be different. Call me a traditionalist if you want, but there is tradition and then there is pure sense verses nonsense. Guess which side this book falls on?

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