Book Review – The Borrower

Cover ImageTitle: The Borrower

Author: Rebecca Makkai

Publisher: William Heinemann

Date: 2011

Format: Paperback (324 pages)

Synopsis: Lucy Hull, a 26-year-old children’s librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both kidnapper and kidnapped when her favourite patron, 10-year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy’s help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in weekly anti-gay classes.

Lucy, a rebel at heart beneath her librarian’s exterior, stumbles into a moral dilemma when she finds Ian camped out in the library after hours, with a knapsack of provisions and an escape plan. Desperate to save him from the Drakes, Lucy allows herself to be hijacked by Ian. The odd pair embark on an improvised road trip from Missouri to Vermont, with ferrets and an inconvenient boyfriend thrown in their path. Along the way, Lucy struggles to make peace with her Russian immigrant father and his fugitive past, and is forced to use his shady connections to escape discovery.

But is it just Ian who is running away? Who is the strange man on their tail? And should Lucy be trying to save a boy from his own parents?

I really wanted to like this book (novels about books and libraries are always attractive to me) and at first I did. I found Ian’s active imagination and fervent love of books adorable and I could relate to Lucy and her desire to expose him to as many books as possible, despite his conservative mother’s attempts to force her to curb his more liberal reading habits. I also really liked all the literary references that kept cropping up.

My feelings of enjoyment lasted about 80 pages, however, then things went completely downhill.

Picture the scene. You arrive at work and find a 10-year-old boy who has run away from home hiding out in your library. Presumably, you would either take him home or call his parents/the police. Lucy does neither. Instead, feeling dissatisfied with her own life and searching for a way to escape her creep of a boyfriend, she jumps in the car with Ian and, after allowing him to lead her on a wild goose chase before realising he’s lying about his home address, decides it would be a great idea to “save” him from his parents and drive off with him for over a week across several state lines.

* There are a couple of spoilers from this point on.*

What really annoyed me was that Lucy frequently admits to herself that what she is doing is both immoral and illegal, but decides that she’s probably going to jail anyway so what does it matter if she keeps driving? She justifies it by letting Ian decide which direction they’ll drive in (so it’s not technically kidnapping). Yeah, okay then.

Along the way she allows Ian’s asthma medication to run out; steals from her father’s friends (who apparently won’t miss the items because they belonged to their runaway daughter, so who cares?);  leaves Ian alone in their hotel room while she gets drunk at the bar; lies through her teeth at every opportunity; and eventually sends Ian home on a bus with another shady friend of her father who she has never met before (after convincing Ian to lie to his parents about where he’s been so that she won’t have to go to jail).

I’ve seen a few reviews which have claimed that the unrealistic nature of the plot doesn’t matter, and that it’s actually an endearing story about a shared love of books and a journey of self-discovery, which isn’t meant to be taken seriously as a realistic story.

If this novel was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, then I guess I missed the memo. If I wanted to suspend my disbelief to the extent required for this ridiculous plot, then I would have read a sci-fi or fantasy book (my favourite genres, just for the record).

For me, it’s a story about a selfish and irresponsible woman who allows herself to be dictated to by a child and instructs him to lie so she can avoid the consequences of her actions. I don’t demand perfection from characters in the books I read (how boring would that be?), but I just can’t relate to Lucy’s character at all.

I had a few other issues with this book, (like the recurring stereotype of librarians as being reserved and generally dull) but I think I’ve ranted for long enough! The writing itself wasn’t bad and the dialogue was funny in places, but I couldn’t get past my fundamental issues with the plot and Lucy’s character.

Overall Rating: Book Rating Picture My bookworm rating system is explained here.

Other Works by this Author: Makkai has also written The Hundred-Year House and Music for Wartime: Stories.



2 thoughts on “Book Review – The Borrower

  1. It’s always disappointing when promising books let you down in the most ridiculous way. I was gritting my teeth while reading your description. Maybe best if I skip this book on account of my oral health. Lol

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