‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

I would be in love with Oscar Schell, if it wasn’t for the fact that Jonathan Safran Foer’s newest protagonist is an nine-year old and  a fictional character. Convinced that everybody would agree with me that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a masterpiece, I went surfing on the Internet and found out that I couldn’t be more wrong.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s debut novel ‘Everything is Illuminated’ was well received and has won numerous awards, his second novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was both  criticized and liked, something I hadn’t expected at all.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close tells the story of Oscar Schell, a boy who lost his father in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Desperately trying to cope with his loss, he tries to find a way to be closer to his father;  he finds an envelop with “Black” written on the frond.  The envelop contains an old key in a blue jar that belonged to his father. Oscar is convinced that the search for the lock the key fits to is the last quest his father had planned for him and somehow will compensate for his father’s death. In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Safran Foer also tells the story of a man who slowly loses his ability to speak. This man turns out to be Oscar’s Grandfather, Thomas Schell, a man with a unique story himself.

In the eyes of many critics, the main problem is the unrealistic main character of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Oscar Schell. His intelligence is often described as impossible, which makes Oscar an unrealistic protagonist, hard to sympathize with and his actions difficult to follow. Oscar is a child prodigy. Yes, I admit, Oscar’s intelligence comes close to being absurd, but then again, which kid is raised with games such as ‘trying to find mistakes in articles of the New York Times’?  It’s true, a character that is unrealistically intelligent often makes an irritating character, but when done right, it’s a delight to read such kind of a book. Jonathan Safran Foer is one of the few who succeeds to create this. So yes, Oscar is slightly unrealistic, but I was very happy to finally come across a bright character as Oscar Schell.
Safran Foer also makes good use of his bright character. He casually puts interesting facts in his story and and he’s able to convey a lot of information in a masterly and subtle way. That combined with a very complicated story, is what makes a true writer. Safran Foer achieves this all.

On the Internet new titles for the book are suggested such as Terribly Artificial and Unbearably Pretentious, Extremely Cloying & Incredibly False, Extremely Precocious and Incredibly Irritating and Extremely Long and Incredibly Bad Writer’s Block. People don’t seem to understand the book, it’s said to be unstructured and chaotic and that Safran Foer fails in keeping Oscar’s search through New York and his Grandfather’s live clearly apart. Yet I think that is one the best parts of the book, it requires attention from its reader. I can understand the point people trying to make, but why see this as a downside and not a strong point of the book? I found it intriguing to unravel the different stories, to finally understand who the man is that loses all his words, why Oscar’s grandmother is so sad and what Oscar’s secret is.

“The secret was a hole in the middle of me that every happy thing fell into.”

Oscar is also what is called an unreliable narrator, which means he omits information, but that I can only see as a challenge.

There is a point though, where I have to agree with the critics, something I only understood after reading some reviews. Safran Foer tries to parallel the events in Oscar’s live, to the ones in his Grandparents lives. Tries, I write, because he fails to. Is this a bad thing? No, in my opinion this parallel isn’t essential for the story.
Another thing that makes the book ‘chaotic’ is its post-modern typography, throughout the entire book one can find photos and images.
But as Alan Hollinghurst puts it:

“His clever combination of word and image does have the effect of drawing one in imaginatively.”

I couldn’t agree more with that, Safran Foer’s special use of typography creates a more realistic dimension, one almost starts to believe that Oscar really exists.

Safran Foer opposes the conventions that have been silently made and as we can see throughout history, people that do this, are never welcomed with open arms. So, in his own way, Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is almost revolutionary. Whether one is against him, or with him, one can’t do anything else, but respect him for trying to be different than the majority.

While reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close one becomes more fond of Oscar with every page one reads, until the very end I shared his dreams and hopes and  I felt sad for the horrible events in his live.
What a relief I felt when Oscar, in the end, finally received a letter from Stephen Hawking.

Oscar’s story is a sad one, no doubt, but it’s full of wonderful people. The end of  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is heartbreaking,

“We would have been safe.”

With all due respect to the critics, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a page-turner and a masterpiece in the true sense of the word.

Yeva Swart


1 Comment

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One response to “‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’

  1. Bram van der Kruk

    Dear Yeva,

    Great post. You are on your way to being a great writer and I appreciate the effort and thought you have put into this post. You used embedded and linked media efficiently and you managed to combine the review/summary and opinion piece beautifully.

    Mark 9.5

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