Ana and I decided on a whim to read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close together. Whilst it is a first-time read for Ana, this is the fifth time which I have picked up Foer’s 2005 novel, and I fall a little more in love with it upon each successive read.
Since first encountering the delightful Oskar and Safran Foer’s stunning way of writing, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has been a firm favourite of mine. The protagonist, Oskar Schell, is a nine-year old boy who lives in New York City with his mother. Oskar’s father was killed during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre. The main thread of the story comes when grieving Oskar unearths a key, and believes that it holds the answer to a mystery which only he can solve. There are, Oskar works out, 162 million locks in New York, but he has no idea as to which of these his father’s key will open. He consequently goes on a quest of sorts through his city, piecing things together as he goes.
Picking up clues along the way, he is soon put onto the trail of someone with the surname of Black: ‘That was my great plan. I would spend my Saturdays and Sundays finding all of the people named Black and learning what they knew about the key in the vase in Dad’s closet. In a year and a half I would know everything. Or at least know that I had to come up with a new plan’.
Oskar is one of the most original child characters whom I have come across in fiction, and he is a sheer joy to become acquainted with. He is a headstrong and creative child; at the beginning of the book, for example, he talks about a host of inventions which he has thought up, clearly placing the reader inside his mind and giving an insight into his thought patterns: ‘What about a teakettle? What if the spout opened and closed when the steam came out, so it would become a mouth, and it could whistle pretty melodies, or do Shakespeare, or just crack up with me?… What about little microphones? What if everyone swallowed them, and they played the sounds of our hearts through little speakers, which could be in the pouches of our overalls?’
The novel is at once beautiful, heartwarming and achingly sad. Safran Foer has such a gorgeous and rather original way of writing; he immediately captures vivid scenes through Oskar’s eyes, and makes every single one of his characters both quirky and utterly believable.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a creative novel. Whilst the majority of the story is told from Oskar’s perspective, there are also letters and photographs which, at first, add to the overall mystery. The incredibly well-plotted whole has been so thoughtfully crafted and put together, and the reader is able to play the part of detective alongside our adorable, naive narrator, who becomes more worldly-wise as he follows the trail. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is, in my opinion, one of the best pieces of contemporary fiction around.