Inkheart

InkheartCornelia Funke (translation by Anthea Bell) [LibrarythingAmazon]

Inkheart is about a girl, Meggie, whose life turns into a fantasy story when strange people begin chasing her father, trying to bring him and a mysterious book to a villain named Capricorn. Along the way, they befriend a grouchy book lover, Elinor, and have strange dealings with a traveling showman, Dustfinger.

When the group is caught and kidnapped, Meggie learns that her father, Mo, has the magical ability to read characters out of books…but in doing so, he reads someone else in. Her mother long ago disappeared into the book “Inkheart” as out came Capricorn, Dustfinger, and one of Capricorn’s henchmen. Though Mo has tried many times to read Meggie’s mother back out, he’s never succeeded—he doesn’t have any control over his ability.

Then it turns out that Meggie has inherited her father’s ability…and Capricorn plans to use her to read an even more horrible, murderous creature out of the book.

Okay, up front, I’ll just say, this book did not do anything for me. In fact, it bored me; I bought it month’s ago, on a friend’s recommendation, and started it, but literally had forgotten its existence until I found it on a shelf. I know there are a lot of people who do really enjoy it, though, and I think a lot of my issues with it are personal quirks and preferences.

One of the main problems I had comes form the translation, I suspect. I didn’t realize it was originally German until about a third of the way through, when I was irritated by what felt like really stilted, unnatural dialogue to me, and very hands-off, non-engaging language. It occurred to me that it might actually not have been English originally, and sure enough! But I found the language stilted and distant to the point of being dull; nothing about the narrative style hooked me or pulled me in. And, as I mentioned, the dialogue all seemed unnatural to me—lots of exclamation points, lots of whispering even though they’ve said they need to be silent.

Aside from that, all of which could either be from the translation or simply cultural differences and a kind of storytelling I’m not used to, I really…well, I can’t say I didn’t care for Meggie, but I can say she had no personality to speak of. She liked books. But that’s not the same as having or being a character. I got no sense of if she was supposed to be shy or outgoing, stubborn or compliant. She was a complete blank. And she also was very passive—kidnapped twice through the books, both times rescued by someone else. (In the first, directly; in the second, she helped hatch a plan that was thought up by someone else and put in motion by someone else.) It also occurred to me that everyone who did the rescuing was male—both she and Elinor were consistently rescued by men, even though Elinor was a stubborn, tough person to deal with. This happened to the point where, um, spoiler: show

So after having spent two thirds of the book waiting for Meggie to develop her power and do something, she still didn’t, and I was highly annoyed.

It also didn’t really feel like Meggie’s story to me. The POV was limited third person, but the third person narration changed between about a half-dozen characters, who all had chapters about them. There was no change in the narrative voice, though, so they all read identically—and a lot of them were off doing things when Meggie was not. The plot and much of the action of the book is initiated by Mo; what he can’t manage is often done by Dustfinger; their eventual savior is Fenoglio, who wrote the book Capricorn belonged to. So Meggie’s chapters are things happening to her, and her waiting for things to happen; other people’s chapters show the real action. It was very frustrating.

There was one aspect of the book I found interesting. Meggie’s father clearly would stop at nothing to rescue his wife, though show

Realizing that her mother had been swallowed by fiction and not just run off on them, Meggie is conflicted—she’s glad her mother loves her, but jealous of her father’s devotion to a woman she doesn’t even remember. Which led to this passage:

She used to search her books for a suitable mother, but there were hardly any mothers in her favorite stories. Tom Sawyer? No mother. Huck Finn? Ditto. Peter Pan and the Lost Boys? Not a mother in sight. Jim Button was motherless, too—and all you found in fairy tales were wicked stepmothers…the list could go on forever. That had almost comforted Meggie in the past. It didn’t seem particularly unusual not to have a mother, or at least not in the books she liked best.

Which is a great, fascinating point. I tend to chalk it up to the general disappearance of parents in YA fiction; it seems like they’re never present. But maybe—probably—there is more to it than that. Why are mothers the expendable parents? And why does their lack of presence seem to have so much less affect than father figures?

It’s worth pondering, but it’s at best a stray point in the book, and doesn’t lend much to it. Overall, I give it two and a half cupcakes instead of only two because I give credit for the language issues being a translation. Frankly, this book just did nothing for me, I have no interest in the rest of the series, and I suspect I’ll forget what it was about in a few days.

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    5 Responses to “Inkheart”

    1. Ingrid says:

      Blast! I picked up one of Funke’s other novels from a used bookstore a couple months back, because it looked interesting, but if all her books are like this (or get shoddy translation jobs like this one seems to have), I fear I’m in for a disappointment.

    2. Rebecca says:

      I’ve also seen a bunch of positive reactions to the book, though, so never fear. (It was recommended to me by a friend; we just had vastly different opinions in the end, I guess.)

    3. michelle says:

      Don’t listen to this review. Inkheart was really good and I thouroughly enjoyed it. It was not boring or horrible. Listen to this:
      INKHEART IS A GOOD BOOK AND CORNELIA FUNKE IS AN AMAZING AUTHOR. Try reading Dragon Rider, i read it and it was good.

    4. Skipper says:

      I LOVE THE INKHEART TRILOGY!!!!!!!!!!!!! CORNELIA FUNKE RULES!!!!!!!

      ROCK ON PEEPS!

    5. Hannah says:

      I like these books. I think I like the second book better than the first one. I’m happy she’s not ending the series on the second book. I had just finished reading the second book (at that time I didn’t know she was writing another one) and I just looked at it and said No! That can’t be the ending!! Then I looked online and found out she was writing another one! The made me feel better. I’m not saying the ending of the second book is bad! It’s just that if that was the ending to the series then it would be bad. I also liked the “Theif Lord”. They’re making a movie of Inkheart!!! I hope it’s good.

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