I received a copy of The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai on audio for review from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

About the Book:

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai (audiobook cover)Lucy Hull is a 20-something children’s librarian in Hannibal, Missouri. Her favorite patron is a ten-year-old boy named Ian, and Lucy happily helps Ian smuggle books deemed inappropriate by his conservative evangelist mother past her watchful eyes.

Then Ian starts to change, seeming moodier and less interested in books each time Lucy sees him, until one morning, Lucy arrives at work early to find Ian had stowed himself away in the library the night before and slept among the books. She means to simply drive Ian home, to parents with whom she may disagree but who must certainly be worried sick, but instead finds herself setting off on an illicit road trip that quickly snowballs out of Lucy’s control.

My Thoughts:

When I requested The Borrower through LibraryThing, it looked to me to have potential. The plot was original and rather intriguing, and I found myself curious to see how the author would develop it. And the cover — kind of cool, right? I’m sorry to say I was disappointed on all fronts. (Well, with the exception of the cover…that’s still pretty neat. That, and the book is sprinkled with lots of bookish allusions, which is always fun.)

My biggest problem was Lucy, the narrator and main character. She and I did not get along from the start. I started off confused, having trouble getting a sense of her character. She often mentioned her discomfort with the standard mild-mannered librarian stereotype, yet in no way did this admission seem relevant to the plot. As the story moved forward, I discovered that Lucy was incapable of taking responsibility for anything that happened to her — even when she herself had instigated it. She spent numerous pages pondering the circumstances of her life and her Russian heritage as though they might provide her with answers, yet though she had plenty of room to grow as a character she never seemed to learn anything. I had no sympathy for her at all and, on the contrary, spent most of the novel feeling annoyed and fed up with her.

Throughout the novel there were also odd passages written to imitate well-known children’s picture books, like Goodnight Moon, but focusing on Lucy and Ian’s story. I found them disruptive and a bit random, not to mention confusingly age inappropriate, seeing as Ian was repeatedly described as reading chapter books and there was no younger child in the novel. Emily Bauer read these passages in a very exaggerated way, making them even more jarring.

Finally, the ending annoyed me enormously. I spent the entire novel suspecting that it would, and it did.

SPOILER ALERT!

I wanted Lucy to answer for what she had done, no matter now unintentional her “kidnapping” had been. I didn’t like her enough to accept that she slipped away from Hannibal protected by Ian’s invented cover story, free to start her new life somewhere else. I was left feeling the entire novel had been pointless, that both characters ended up where they’d started despite their ill-advised sojourn together.

As for the audio production, I may have been a bit biased from the start. Emily Bauer is one of those readers I tend to avoid, as her style of reading grates on me. The characters she portrays always come across whiny — which, though it may have worked for Lucy, certainly did nothing to endear Makkai’s main character to me. Bauer’s voice is high to begin with, which is fine, but when she modulates it even higher to do Ian’s 10-year-old voice, the effect is almost cartoonish. I don’t think Bauer’s narration was the sole reason I disliked The Borrower, but was one of them.

Instead of continuing with my own comments, I will direct you over to Bonjour, Cass! where the lovely Cass has written a review with a different focus but with which I heartily agree.

Those are my thoughts. Check out The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai on Goodreads or LibraryThing, listen to an Audible sample, or read other bloggers’ reviews:

If I missed your review, please let me know and I’ll add a link!

Join the Conversation

30 Comments

  1. I was hoping this one would be better. I love books set in libraries and librarians as protagonists, it’s a shame this one couldn’t have done better with such a cute premise.

    1. Many people have enjoyed this book, so I might be in the minority. I usually love such books, too! Though very little of this one was actually set in a library.

  2. Oh, I am sorry to hear this didn’t work for you! I had high hopes for this one because it involved books, which is something I usually love, but it sounds like this is not the book for me. Very thoughtful review on this one. You really helped me make up my mind.

    1. Many people have enjoyed this one, so maybe it’s just me! I usually love bookish books, too, but I didn’t like how they were incorporated into this one. I’m glad to have helped you make up your mind and hope your choice ends up being the right one for you!

  3. I’m sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy this one. I read it a while back and I really enjoyed it, but I guess I read it with a huge grain of salt and didn’t take it too seriously. I found the book quite funny, even though it did involve child kidnapping… that’s not to say that I didn’t think the protagonist didn’t have issues, because she totally did, I just didn’t think we were supposed to view her as a role model. I think her heart was in the right place, even if her actions were questionable.

    1. I’m sorry, too! I wanted to. I’d have been happy to take it with a whole spoonful of grains of salt, but I just found it, and its protagonist, annoying. I do think my strong dislike of Lucy wasn’t helped by the audiobook narrator, who made her out to be really whiny. I’m glad many bloggers have enjoyed this one, even if I didn’t.

    1. That wouldn’t be hard to accomplish 🙂 I think the narrator on the audiobook made me dislike Lucy more than I would otherwise. Not to say I’d have liked her in print, though.

  4. It would be hard to not take responsibility for what sounds, basically, like child kidnapping. The plot did sound promising. Too bad it didn’t work for you. And I do think that a narrator can add or subtract a lot from an audiobook.

    1. Yes…that’s kind of how I felt. And perhaps I could have been a little sympathetic if the protagonist had been different, but my goodness she annoyed me! Lots of bloggers who’ve read the book have enjoyed it, so maybe the narrator had an even bigger impact than I’d thought. Interestingly enough, the other blogger I know of who tried the audio didn’t even finish, she disliked the narrator so much! I think I’d have set it aside, too, had it not been a review copy.

    1. That sounds like a good approach. There are definitely many bloggers who loved this one. My general feeling is, I’d rather go into a book with middle-ish expectations and be blown away than with high expectations and be disappointed 🙂

    1. Yeah, that’s very true. I do think I disliked it a little more on audio than I might have in print, but I still don’t think it would have been my sort of book if I’d read it instead of listening to it.

    1. I feel the same way. I have to care about what happens to at least one of the characters, and in this one, sadly, I didn’t.

    1. I usually do, too, which is why I was excited! This one definitely didn’t work for me, though others seem to have enjoyed it.

  5. I’ve seen this one a few times and thought the premise interesting but I dislike characters who take no responsibility for themselves so this one slips a notch or two down my TBR list

    Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out

    1. I really struggled with that aspect. That, and the fact that I really didn’t care what happened to anyone in the story. If you end up reading it, I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts!

    1. Yeah…it’s too bad. A lot of bloggers really seem to have enjoyed it, but there was just too much I couldn’t overlook.

    1. I love that post-bad-book wish! My next audiobook was to continue with a series I am LOVING, so it was much better. This one is now just a tiny blip on my overall audiobook horizon 🙂

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