I’ll begin by saying that Jodi Picoult’s novels are not for everyone. They deal with some of the worst themes imaginable; rape, murder, child abuse, genocide to name a few. They are not for people who want a light, happy read. Despite this, she is one of my favourite authors. She writes books that really mean something, and that truly do stay with you for days and weeks after you’ve finished them. What I love the most about her books is that the characters are always wonderfully developed, and she is brilliant at creating a realistic ‘grey area’ within all of them. By that, I mean that there is rarely a good guy and a bad guy, a hero/heroine and villain. Her characters are real people, with real problems, who deal with them in real ways.
The characters in The Storyteller are no different. Sage Singer is a 23 year old recluse. She works at night as a baker, is dating a married man and has a scarred face which she hides from the world. At a grief group she began attending after her mother passed away, Sage meets Josef Weber, a 95 year old German man who everybody loves. They become unlikely friends. One day, Josef asks Sage for a favour – not just any favour. He wants her to help him to die. Sage is horrified at the idea, but as she finds out more about him, she becomes horrified at Josef himself.
I wonder whether it is Sage’s age and love of baking that attracts me to her. I am also 23, and if you’ve read other posts on my blog you’ll know that baking bread is one of my favourite past times. As soon as I read the blurb for this book I was keenly interested, and from the first page my interest was held. Last night I stayed up until 3am reading because I was so hooked. Sage is a likeable character who is naturally very kind. She isn’t materialistic, and is not at all arrogant or egotistical. Despite this, she is sleeping with a married man, can be quick to anger, and doesn’t forgive easily (others or herself). Here is a classic example of the grey area I mentioned above.
I think that The Storyteller might be my one of my favourite of Jodi Picoult’s novels because of the subject matter. It deals with the Holocaust, a truly horrific part of Europe’s history that still has ramifications today. Despite this, I think people are in danger of forgetting just what happened all those years ago under Hitler’s regime, and this book reminds the reader of this in shocking detail.
Yet amongst the horror of the subject matter, there are pockets of beauty in every section of the book. Picoult is a master of weaving the dark and the light in such a way that you are completely aware and understanding of the devestation she is talking about, but at the same time keeping the reader hooked with perfectly timed happy moments. For instance at one point during this novel, a girl thinks she is being sent to her death, and realises later that her life was actually being saved. It is this emotional rollercoaster that Picoult takes you on that really makes her books so fantastic.
I always read to escape. My life is not particularly traumatic or negative, but everyone wants to get away for a while. I read every day to remind myself that this is not all there is. As an escapist novel you can’t really do better than Picoult. Yes, they can be heartbreaking and depressing novels, but they are also uplifting, thought-provoking and intellectual. That is exactly what I want from a novel, and Picoult delivers time and time again.