The Simple Joy of Unexpected Descriptive Metaphor

Cover of "The Book Thief"

“He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world.

She was the book thief without the words.

Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.”
― Markus ZusakThe Book Thief

This week, I’ve been delighting in the wordsmithing of the talented Markus Zuzak, author of The Book Thief.   This book is a selection of my neighborhood book club and the one that I procrastinated picking up until the last minute.  Now, I’m madly trying to finish before Thursday.  In my haste, I accidentally got the book on CD instead of on paper, which in the end has been a blessing more than a curse.  Even though I can read several times faster than I can listen to an audiobook, it’s awfully hard to read while folding dinner or preparing the laundry.

Now, I am forced to take the time to listen to the words, to feel them rattle around in my brain.  For this story, it’s worth it.

First, a funny story.  When I found that I had accidentally ordered the book on CD, I also realized that I no longer had a portable CD player to play it on.  Instead, I loaded the book into iTunes on the computer and then transferred it to my phone.  In my haste to listen to the book and be done in time for book group, I neglected to notice that my phone’s music player was set to shuffle.  For the first hour of listening I thought the story was very disjointed and hard to understand.  I attributed it to the art of the writer and mentally tried to put the different pieces together to figure out what was going on in the story.  It wasn’t until the title chapter started playing that I realized my mistake.

Needless to say the story makes a whole lot more sense now!

One of the things I’m enjoying the most with this book is the way things are described using unexpected metaphor and surprising choices of words.  In the example above we read, “Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.”

It would have been simpler to write, “Liesel would soon learn the power of words, and would use them well.” However, simpler is not always better.  Without the metaphor we are robbed of the image of her twisting the clouds and letting the words shower out.  Instead, we can’t see anything, it’s just a thought.  The whole book is heavy with different metaphorical images such as this one.  It makes the writing fresh and at times breathtaking.  Through the eyes of the author we are allowed to see familiar things in a new light.

Also, the narrator has a fascination with color, and uses it in startling and unexpected ways.  At one point he speaks of a man’s face being the color of egg shell, giving the impression that he was not only pale but fragile as well.  Again, we are given an image much stronger than had the writer told us that the man looked pale and sickly.

Another tool that Zusak uses to his advantage is doing what’s directly opposite to what the reader would expect.  Here are a few of quotes that demonstrate:

“Like most misery, it started with apparent happiness.”

“The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy that loves you.”

“A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.”

Misery/happiness, hate/love, a snowball in the face/friendship – all of these are the exact opposite from each other.  It is their opposition that makes them stronger.  The thought makes us think and our mind must make new connections.  This is what makes them powerful and memorable.  It’s unexpected and catches me off guard, for that I love it.

For writers and readers alike, this book has a lot to offer. Beautiful, unexpected language, coupled with a gripping story set in Nazi Germany, makes The Book Thief a brilliant read.


Don’t Miss the Blog Hop!

summer 13 giveaway hop[1][1]

Starting Thursday, August 1st, my other blog Jodi L. Milner, Author, will be participating in the Summer Giveaway Hop 2013 hosted by I Am A Reader and BookHounds.  I will be giving away an autographed writer’s notebook, two fancy pens, and a handmade wire wrapped bookmark.

Mark your calendars, don’t miss it.  My blog along with over one hundred others are all giving away everything from books, to giftcards, to t-shirts in raffles.

About Jodi

Jodi L. Milner is a writer, mandala enthusiast, and educator. Her epic fantasy novel, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, was published in November 2018 and rereleased in Jan 2020. She has been published in several anthologies. When not writing, she can be found folding children and feeding the laundry, occasionally in that order.
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3 Responses to The Simple Joy of Unexpected Descriptive Metaphor

  1. Great review of a terrific book Jodi. You had me laughing with the ‘folding dinner’ and ‘preparing laundry’ and the whole book-on-shuffle scenario. priceless.

    • Jodi says:

      Thanks Karen! My hubby was so cute, when he read it he sent me an email pointing out the mistake. I’m chalking it up to a happy accident and letting it stay.

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