Imagine if when you read out loud from a book, something or someone from that book would appear in your room. But in exchange, something or someone from your world would disappear into the story you were reading. This is the premise for Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. It's the story of Meggie, whose father, Mo, keeps moving them around in his profession as a book doctor, repairing and restoring old books. When one night a mysterious man appears, it starts to uncover all the secrets Mo has kept over the years. Meggie is twelve and no longer tolerant of Mo's explanations for their moving patterns, her mother's disappearance and why her father has never read out loud to her.
My summary basically takes you through a big part of the beginning of the book, but it doesn't reveal some of the best parts. The villains of this book are delightfully fiendish and Meggie's great-aunt Elinor is one of my favorite characters. The language feels older, which makes a reference to a cell phone feel bizarre, but it could be that the book was originally written in German and that's how the English translation worked out. The setting is Europe, with most of it being in Italy, and wasn't written for an American audience, but as we see with Harry Potter, that's not stopping this book from becoming a favorite in the States.
As with all of our co-reviews, spoilers abound and if you really do want to read this book, go no further. I hope the previous two paragraphs entice you enough to go read a copy.
Jenny: Every person of novel-reading age at our house has read this book and it's a favorite. It's exciting, the concept is cool and you can't help but root for our girl, Meggie. The thing I wasn't crazy about it how many times they go back and forth to Capricorn's compound. I got kinda bored of it, but there was plot development amidst at the back and forth to the village. I also thought it was silly that Meggie calls her dad, Mo. Where does that happen outside of books and tv? Not terribly important to gripe about, but it annoyed me.
I loved all the quotes from books at the beginning of chapters and the literary references littered throughout. I was tickled when she talks about Shel Silverstein's book of poems, Where the Sidewalk Ends because it was one of my favorite things to read as a child. It's becoming more trendy and cool to be a reader, and this book is an example of the heroes being lovers of books.
Caren: I liked that hero aspect too, but I noticed that she also pointed out some of the drawbacks of being an imbalanced book-lover. Like Elinor (a favorite of mine, too) and her inability to have real meaningful relationships because she only cared about her books. I also agree with you about the tennis-match plot back and forth from the village. I expected more to develop, so when they kept ending up back there it was a little disappointing.
But don't get me wrong, I was never bored. She did a good job of taking a plot that sounds like it wouldn't have a lot of potential (characters from a book coming alive -- that'd be interesting for only a few minutes) and made it very convincing. When Basta kept finding them no matter where they hid, when Capricorn was threatening even to the writer who created him, when super-practical Elinor found herself swallowed up in a story containing mythical creatures and evil villains -- just a few examples of how it was a lot more serious and dark than I would have expected. But not so dark that it was beyond the intended audience. Just enough to keep the pages turning!
The time period was a little jarring for me too. When it first mentioned Meggie wearing jeans I had to go back and reread the beginning to make sure I hadn't imagined her reading by candlelight. And then because so much of it took place in Capricorn's village, it was easy to get lost in the setting and forget that this was the age of the Internet and cell phones. I can't decide if that showed how skillfully Funke created her setting, or if it was a sign of inconsistency in the writing.
The relationship between the reader, the author, and the written word was really interesting, I thought. Especially once she brought Fenoglio into the story and suddenly he was faced with being accountable for these horrible, evil characters that he had created. And for him to end up in his own book at the end....! I didn't see that one coming!
Jenny: I loved it when they brought in Fenoglio and kind of got the hunch that they were going to have him rewrite passages from the book, or write something to get rid of the bad guys, something along those lines. I was a teensy bit disappointed to have figured out the ending, since I like to be surprised, but even though I knew what was going to happen, I was excited to see how it would unfold. But I definitely didn't see Fenoglio ending up in his own book so she surprised me after all!
With Elinor, I thought it was interesting to see her reflect on her relationship with her father as the reason why she is so distant. Since I liked her ornery self so much, I was even happier to see her develop into a more personable, loving, grandmother-figure for Meggie. I have to admit to a little bit of covetous drooling over her collection of books and a horrified despair come over me at the burning of her most precious books. Elinor's furious dash back to Italy to kick Basta's heiny for burning her babies was finally the motivation she needed to get involved and want to save the day. I'm really, really glad they brought Darius back with them too and gave him something to do. Poor guy couldn't help being a quivery mess who couldn't read out loud properly.
The character I felt sorry for was Dustfinger. He obviously wasn't a stalwart fellow and was not suited for Meggie's world. I mean, I'm glad he turned out to be helpful, but he's still really looking out for Number One. I'm kinda sad that Farid is his tag-a-long, since he isn't the best role model, but oh well. Speaking of Farid, future love interest for Meggie? I think so.
My question that might be dumb because, really, who doesn't want more books? is why didn't Basta and The Magpie disappear with the rest? Just to make a sequel? I read the first chapter of the next book and let me tell you, it is enticing. I'm hoping Funke will explain the whole non-disappearing Basta and Magpie business.
Caren: Yeah, them not disappearing was weird. Is she going to explain it eventually or will it just be one of those "who knows why the magic works the way it does?" sort of things? It did seem like sort of a cheap way to set up a sequel, but at least Capricorn died -- I would have been really unhappy if he'd continued into the next one.
I liked some of the unexpected ways that she developed the characters, like you mentioned with Dustfinger and Farid. And I was disappointed that Farid ended up going with Dustfinger after all, since he is young enough that he could really benefit from a better influence. But I'm sure we haven't seen the last of them!
One bittersweet character twist concerned Meggie's mother. I was so happy that they found her, but it was so heartbreaking that she'd lost her voice when Darius clumsily read her out of the story. As if nine years of separation wasn't hard enough! It would have been a bit simplistic, but I was sort of hoping that it would be fixed with Fenoglio's new ending.
My 5-year-old has recently started reading the Magic Tree House series about a brother and sister who go visit the locations in their books, but their visits are always short and they return safely at the end of their adventures (it's for young kids, after all). The thought of someone being stuck in a story forever put a more malevolent twist on that universal reader's wish, which prompted some discussion in our family on if there were any books that we'd ever want to stay in permanently. I soon realized that all of my favorite stories included so much fear and good vs. evil that I would never want to live in them! I couldn't even handle something safe like a Jane Austen novel because I wouldn't want to give up modern luxuries like indoor plumbing and disposable contacts. The only one I could consider is a Harry Potter novel, where I could enjoy an awesome world but without losing the conveniences of the one I live in. So apparently I was born into the right story!
Jenny: That's funny because I had the same conversation with my husband and seven-year-old, who have both read the book, and my daughter brought up the Harry Potter books! But I agree, too many stories have aspects that would seriously cramp my cushy lifestyle. Those Magic Treehouse kids have it good, popping back and forth.
I wonder if in the second book Basta steps up as the villain, or if Funke pursues the Inkworld story more and introduces some characters there. I've read just a few pages into it, but it looks like Inkspell has quite a bit that takes place in the world that is the book Inkheart. My husband took it with him when he left the country for work, so I'll just have to wait.
By the way, have you seen a trailer for Inkheart the movie coming out in January? Looks like a pretty big departure from the book, but lots of fun. I might just have to see it someday.
Caren: Oh, that would be really fun if the next book develops the Inkheart world. That was one thing that was very tantalizing about this story, that the original Inkheart world and story remained such a mystery. I actually liked that aspect -- that she didn't feel like she had to reveal all of the story behind the story, but just gave us enough teasers to keep us wondering.
I haven't seen the trailer for the movie, but this would be a fun movie if they do it well. I wonder if it would be too much for my kids. They don't handle scary very well, and I could easily see it going either way with this story!
Jenny: Unfortunately, my kids cannot handle any scary. Maybe a teensy bit, but not much at all. Someday, perhaps.
What a fun read for December! Worth your reading time.