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Book: Inkheart

June 23, 2010

Well, shoot. I have to agree with everyone and say that I liked this book, wanted to love it, but in the end, it just didn’t come to life enough for me to give it whole-hearted enthusiasm.

As usual, I am late to the party on this one (who knew there was a movie and everything? Not me!) and I just happened upon it randomly at the library and liked the cover, thought that the story sounded interesting, and chuckled at the author’s note that she is the “third most-popular author in Germany after J.K. Rowling and R.L. Stine.”

Basic summary: Meggie and her book-binder father live alone and travel a lot. Unbeknownst to Meggie, her father has a dangerous talent: when he reads aloud, sometimes characters and objects from the story are transplanted into this world, and sometimes people and things from this world, go into the book’s story. One time this happened and some truly bad people came into this world, and he’s been on the run ever since.

In that this is a fantasy book for fantasy-book-lovers, I liked it a lot. I loved all the references to books and enjoyed identifying authors, characters, quotes, images, etc. which were pulled from fairy tales and other classic children/young-adult books. That part, I loved. I also loved how much the main characters of Meggie, her father, and Elinor treasured books. I can completely identify.

What I didn’t love so much was that this book never really lived up to its potential. Similar to how I felt about The Red Tent, I just felt like this was a good book, but it could have been GREAT. Lots of missed opportunities for character development, storyline continuity and those touches of magic which brings truly great books to life.

For instance, although Meggie and her father are likeable characters, we barely get to know them. They love books, okay. And each other. And they miss Meggie’s mom, who disappeared into Inkheart, the book,  when Meggie was three. And that’s about all we know about them. Meggie is held up as a brave little girl but we only get wooden examples of this, and lots of her crying into her father’s sweater. How does she feel about anyone? We never really find out.

The other characters fare no better. Dustfinger is homesick for his other world, but aside from missing fairies and hating cars, we really don’t know why. The bad guy, Capricorn, is pure bad, but not very scary, and we don’t know why he’s bad. We also don’t know why his mother’s identity is a mystery — there is this minor subplot about his mother, but we never find out why this is a big deal. My impression was that she just didn’t want people to know she was his mother, even though it’s not like she was a good-guy or anything. She wanted people to think she was a maid? Why?

Also, there is a tantalizing thread introduced early about Dustfinger wanting to know how his story ends. He is tempted… but then he decides not to find out. However, we eventually learn that in the book, he is killed by Capricorn when he tries to save his beloved pet, the horned martin Gwin. So, you would think that somehow this storyline would get carried over to this world somehow, right? Perhaps someone takes Dustfinger’s place, or somehow this ‘fate’ is wrapped up. But, no. It’s just dropped, and Dustfinger goes off into the night.

Meggie’s mother is another mystery. She somehow got ‘read’ back into her original world, but she remains  a cardboard character at best. She can’t speak, but at least her written word could be eloquent. There is barely a heart-felt reunion. She and Meggie’s dad stand awkwardly next to each other, because “nine years is a long time.” But… what then?

I don’t know. I liked the book and I think someone who hasn’t already read Harry Potter, and who is perhaps between 10 and 12, might really enjoy it. But there were too many loose ends, flat characters, and missed opportunities for me to really love this book, although there were many elements about it which I truly enjoyed.

However, I am tempted to watch the movie, because often when I don’t like the book, I end up liking the movie, even when the movie is bad. A bad movie is less disappointing than a disappointing book, I think. I don’t expect much from a movie. I always feel very let down when a book doesn’t meet expectations.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 23, 2010 11:37 am

    I’m the same way with movies. I only have a couple of hours time invested with a film.

  2. June 23, 2010 11:55 am

    I felt the same way about it, pretty much. I can see the appeal of the premise, but the execution fell short for me. And the flat characterisation definitely didn’t help. Apparently that’s something that’s somewhat corrected in the sequels, but with so many other books out there I don’t know if I can be bothered to try them.

  3. June 23, 2010 8:27 pm

    aw this one sounds like such a disappointment.

    im not a huge fantasy book lover, but lately ive been itching for some. (it feels as if ive been reading Le Divorce for about 6 years, although in reality its been about 2 weeks-which is still far too long.) im thinking it may be time for me to read some more de lint.

  4. June 23, 2010 9:50 pm

    Dani: totally. a book takes way more commitment.

    Ana: I don’t think I’ll read the others. Definitely did not fall in love with any of the characters, although I wanted to!

    Tammie: de Lint is good ANYtime. Have you read Memory and Dream, or The Little Country? Two favorites. Once you get to know Jilly you will love The Onion Girl and Widdershins. I read Le Divorce and it was good, but yeah, it’s about twice as long as it needs to be.

  5. Theresa permalink
    June 25, 2010 8:03 pm

    I liked this book too, but didn’t “love” it. Once I finished it I pretty much had no desire to finish off the series and never did. Which is rare for me. The movie was eh…. ok. Kinda like the book.

  6. June 30, 2010 4:47 pm

    Theresa: hmm. I think I might skip it, unless it’s on TV and I’m utterly bored (like that ever happens!)

  7. December 2, 2010 1:53 am

    inkheart has great graphics but the story is not that very impressive ,:,

  8. Gracie permalink
    February 5, 2011 12:08 am

    I totally agree with your critique, and all the comments. However, I really, really enjoyed the other two installments in the trilogy, Inkspell and Inkdeath. They are both a lot better than the first book, plus they take place within the world of “Inkheart,” which is a thrill. Still, the books are flat in some of the ways Inkheart is, but they answer many of the questions and develop a lot more on the characters of Meggie’s mother, Dustfinger, Fenoglio the author of “Inkheart,” and Farid, the young boy Mo reads out of 1,001 Nights. If you can’t fall in love with the characters, it is still quite easy and lovely to fall in love with the world of “Inkheart.” The themes get deeper as the trilogy moves on as well. The third book explores more openly the concept of “reality”; that maybe our own world is simply a story being read somewhere else by someone else. Another beautiful theme it touches on is that of fate – can we defy the story that is laid out for us in our choices and actions? Of course, if your interest in this story has long faded I don’t blame you, but if you ever get around to it or have the slightest desire to return to it, I would recommend Inkspell and Inkdeath to you all.

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