Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

This is the book I've been wanting to read for about two years now.  While I didn't know that Inkheart existed until about a month ago, it represents all the concepts of fantasy that I had been searching for--if not combating with--in so many other books.  In Inkheart I found adventure, fantasy, action (yes, things actually happened! Which seems to be a problem in a lot of adult fantasy I come across these days) and best of all Inkheart felt real.  It was a true escape: not just sitting down to read for twenty minutes but 'I'm gonna go live in this world for a while (which is our world) until hunger, sleep or some other third-partied, out-side source alerts me to the fact that I still have the rest of my life to live.'

Inkheart is a very personal story dealing with Mortimer Folchart, Mo, and is daughter Meggie.  They live alone and make certain not to establish lasting roots: Meggie is not in school, Mo doesn't have a 'regular job.'  He's a contract book doctor repairing and restoring for universities, libraries and private collectors.  They often times have to get up and move in the middle of the night and this has been how they've lived for as long as Meggie can remember.

While Mo loves books and stories you would never catch him reading and most certainly not reading aloud.  He did that once years ago and in the childish way that we often think 'I wish this story was real' he achieved just that with the power of the written word and his voice.  The problem is Mo wasn't reading a 'safe' book at the time the story's events and characters decided to manifest themselves in the real world.  Since Mo's last reading, Inkheart, has been very nearly wiped out of memory.

We meet Dustfinger, fire-breathing-juggling street performer and the story's most sympathetic and well-rounded character.  He has finally hunted down Mo, whom he calls 'Silvertongue.'  Dustfinger very much wants to go back to his world and his logic is 'Silvertongue got me out of the book; perhaps he can put me back in...' but despite Dustfinger's suffering Mo won't read aloud for anything.  It's in the first confrontation between these two that Meggie's confusion and intrigue becomes the readers.  She knows nothing of Dustfinger, Mo's reading ability, or even her mother yet no one is willing to tell her anything.

Meggie learns of Basta, and Capricorn, some very 'less-pleasant-than Dustfinger' characters that Mo read out of Inkheart and she learns that Dustfinger isn't the only one looking for Mo.  That his reading voice is in greater demand than his book binding ability.

It's such a simple premise that I could understand skepticism at the idea working: where people and things jump off the printed page and hangout with us in real life.  That is exactly how Inkheart works. So we get bad guys like, Capricorn, mountains of gold from The Arabian Nights, and Tinkerbell...

It works, and works so well, because we, the reader, don't know how Inkheart the book in the book, ends.  It's not as if Mo is in a hurry to start reading added to which it's a near impossible book to find due to Capricorns fear of being read back into the book and his subsequent destruction of every copy he can find.  (He's doing quite well for himself in our world.)  We know enough of the characters personalities to infer their feelings and doings while they are in our world: Dustfinger's cowardice and melancholy for all things fey in his world that don't exist in ours, Basta's love of cruelty and twisted concept of loyally, The Magpie's dedication, and Capricorn's lust for power and control.

Silvertongue, Dustfinger, Capricorn.  Seriously: does Funke not have the greatest naming conventions ever in a fantasy novel?

The conflict comes when Capricorn gets his hands on Mo and ask that he read very specific passages from well chosen books; when Mo thinks of a way to undo the terrible accident that started events years ago; when Dustfinger finds a copy of Inkheart and his wishy-washy nature makes him a pest to everyone (yet I still loved the guy); when we find that Mo may not be the only Silvertongue around; when we learn of Mo's desire to always possess a copy of Inkheart and why it is so important to him even considering the present danger the book currently presents him.

I didn't always know who the main character was.  The author definitely wanted it to be Meggie but it's her father that is the axis point for all the stories events.  I liked the inclusive third person narration of the book but I did question some of the time that was given to Meggie. The preceding is a comment not a criticism.  Funke creates such interest and attachment to her characters that while every page may not propel events forward every word did heighten my desire to keep reading; and really, what could be better than that? 

It's not a fairy tale and there is no happily ever after ending.  It's contemporary fantasy written in our world with many real world realities.  And while there is a definitive measure taken at the end and the book is wholly satisfying on its own there are a million and a half questions you'll find yourself asking by the book's conclusion.  Most pressing for me was how Mo works his magic.  By the time we meet the author of Inkheart, Signor Fenoglio, (who felt like a supporting actor that happened to steal the show) there are more questions as to the mechanics of 'how' than ever before.  I like Funke's choice of never once indulging that question (at least not in this book) it only heightened my curiosity and love of the story she wrote.  I'm almost hesitant to read the next book in the series as right now everything makes sense in it's 'wherever my imagination takes me' explanation.  I have to know what comes next as the story is so firmly embedded in my mind and while it's not a fear of being let down, part of me doesn't want to give up the ambiguity and enticement that Inkheart has instilled with something concrete (and possibly even better than my imagination) that book two will solidify.

Am I gushing?  I'll stop now; I think I'm gushing. 

This book is huge.  You can't power through it.  There are lots of pages and while I wouldn't say the writing is dense or tight gripped you will experience every word.  This ain't a fast food book where you 'chew chew swallow' and it's over and done and you don't really know what you've consumed even if you know what you ordered.  Inkheart is a Thanksgiving feast of a book: it's special, it doesn't happen everyday, and when you're done regardless of the meal being amazing it makes you appreciate how irregular it's occurrence is and savor the memory all the more.  


Anonymous said...

i had no choice but to power through it. i was supposed to finish the damn thing in three days. i am now doing a book report on it and a summary took up 6 pages. i created a lot diagram and found myself using each side of the paper 3 times, i got a 70% on it because of poor penmanship... school sucks

Anonymous said...

actually i take that back. teachers suck, school is ok