Saturday, 24 January 2015

Book Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver has won so many awards since first being published in 1993 that listing them all would be overwhelming. Let’s just say most critics love this utopia/dystopia tale aimed at children.
It’s a small book that succeeds in bringing hugely controversial social and ideological issues to the forefront of debate and while I don’t profess to undertake a full literary analysis of it, I can share what I thought of it as a casual reader who has a love for dystopian fiction at the moment (along with most of the reading world right now).

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8/10
"The Giver follows an eleven year old names Jonas who lives in a society where everyone fits into a role given to them at a ceremony when they turn 12. This is a community where everything is heavily controlled to achieve an utopian society where everyone is content but in doing so, creates a paradox as there is no longer any memory of what it is to fell true pain or pleasure.

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What’s good about it?
This is a book that you simply cannot read without sacrificing a couple of hours (at least) for it to haunt your thoughts once you’ve hit the final page. 
It’s incredibly thought-provoking as most books fitting into the utopia/dystopia category often are but the telling through a child’s eyes allows for much wider interpretation of the messages that Lowry is really trying to get across (which I haven’t figured out yet). 
It’s very short totalling at a mere 179 pages but it opens up such a mental can of worms that you should definitely have it in your arsenal of talking points whenever you’re next with a fellow reader.

As you might have gathered, this isn’t a feel-good book. You won’t come away from it grinning at the page; in fact, you might feel a bit disturbed. It’s strange to label this as a good reaction but this is clearly a novel with a purpose to actively feed the reader big, juicy moral questions and it achieves that splendidly.

Though only having read this once, it gives off the feeling that once you’ve read it, you will keep going back to flick through it from cover to cover and understand it in a completely new way and that’s something I’m really looking forward to. It covers so many different aspects of society yet with sparse detail and in a short period that you can fill in the dots yourself and come to completely new conclusions with each rethink. The ending of the book is the perfect example of this. At first, I thought the ending was a complete disappointment but on reflection, it seemed the perfect mystery ending to an equally mysterious book.


What isn't so great?
This is not a children’s book. In fact, some of the themes are quite disturbing, one in particular which I’m sure every past reader of the book can remember with a slight shudder as they recall the mental imagery that the book forced upon them. While the writing is straight forward enough and suited for a young reading level, the themes are definitely not. A few reviewers on Goodreads have suggested that it’s suitable for young teens so long as there is an adult ready to tackle questions this novel raises alongside them. However, the issues raised in this book feel as though it would be better to explore it at college level or at most, at the end of GCSE’s otherwise the messages will be overlooked and the book never read again or the sensitivities and questions within it might be a little too much for someone just discovering what it is to be an individual with responsibility.

It’s very understandable why the lack of detail is used as a writing technique but it just doesn’t make the novel enjoyable, in fact it dulls an otherwise very interesting world which in a way, I suppose is the point. Still, it could do with carrying more detail and being less abstract in order to really grab the reader. 

The lack of characterisation also becomes a stumbling point here as it’s often hard to care about what’s going on because you can’t really relate to any of the characters deeply enough. Again, it’s clear to see how it’s being used as another literary device but it just doesn’t make for compelling reading, only compelling essay-writing which is a downright shame as the society in this novel has a very real potential to cement this book even more firmly in the modern classics category.

Overall, ‘The Giver’ is something you should definitely put an hour and a half aside to read through and then a couple of days aside to give it the thought it deserves. It will have you wondering questions you’ve never considered before and it’d be no surprise if it threw in a few new perspectives that you’ve never considered before in there too. The rest of The Giver Quartet is meant to complete some of the mysteries of The Giver but for me, they’re being put on hold for now and I’m sure when I’ve read them, I’ll have even more new ideas about interpretations to add to this incredibly thought-provoking book.


(Read 19th December, 2014)

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