This is my second book by Markus Zusak, which I got after very satisfyingly finishing “The Book Thief“.

Messenger is a delightful read. Entertaining, funny … light. Most of all, easy on the senses. I finished the book in less than a week, reading it for about 30 minutes everyday.

It has memorable characters that stay with you long after the book has taken its place on your shelf: Ed Kennedy, 19 years old – an underage cabbie who is hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey – also a cabbie. Both in dead-end jobs. Ed driving from one destination to the next. And Audrey from one boyfriend to another. Both lost and without direction. They hang around with Ritchie and Marv, playing cards and lounging in Ed’s shack in the evenings. Ritchie is unemployed. Marv works as a builder. And oh, there’s the Doorman, Ed’s 17 year old Rottweiler/German Shepherd cross who smells every inch the stinky dog that he is. The Doorman loves coffee, and likes to sit by the door. Hence the name.

Ed’s our main guy and the story starts with him and his mate Marv being held hostage in a bank robbery. The scene inside the bank – with the staff and customers all sprawled out on the floor and held at gunpoint by a gunman – and the exchange between Ed and Marv about Marv’s wreck of a car being the funniest. One thing leads to another and next we see the police arriving and unsuspectingly orders the robber’s waiting getaway car to move from the front of the bank, leaving the robber stranded. Desperate to escape, he orders Marv to give him the keys to his car (thanks to their exchange about Marv’s car outside) and attempts to get away. The robber drops his gun outside and Ed seizes it and goes to corner the bungling robber before he can start the engine (there’s always a problem with the car’s ignition – amongst other things).

So Ed becomes a local hero, his face plastered all over the local newspapers. And that’s when the cards start arriving.

The first card has the names of streets and times. He visits the addresses and sees that each of them has a story to tell. For example, there’s the house on Edgar Street with the abusive drunk husband who comes back every night terrorising his wife and daughter. Then there’s the house with the old lady – Milla Johnson who keeps calling Ed ‘Jimmy’ (‘Jimmy’ being her husband who died in the War). Milla’s suffering from Alzheimer’s, you see.

Ed steps up to the house on Edgar Street, and hears the commotion inside. The little daughter comes running out, and sits on the steps. Ed’s there but he is powerless to do anything. So he does nothing. He goes home, and finds a gun in his mailbox. Long story short, Ed finds himself in the woods, with the abusive man kneeling in front of him. The gun in Ed’s hand to the back of his head.The man pleads for his life and Ed shouts his warnings to him about acting like a bastard to his family. The gun goes off, and the man runs. Never to be seen again. One mission accomplished and peace returns to the home on Edgar Street.

With Milla, Ed becomes Jimmy, visiting her, dining with her and being a companion. He reads Wuthering Heights to her on every visit, and spends time with her until she sleeps. He tucks her in and leaves. This goes on throughout the book and is very touching to read.

And so goes the story. Ed finishes the list of missions on each card and moves on to the next. In the process, he makes friends (think of the Tatapu family, Sophie, etc) and enemies (think of the Rose brothers) and slowly discovers himself and his own life. From a life of ordinariness, the missions give his existence meaning and he ceases to become “Just Ed” – much to Audrey’s dismay. We find out later that she (as do Marv and Ritchie and a host of other characters) has her reasons though not conscious of them.

An ordinary bloke delivering messages, changing people’s lives. In the end, Ed realises that his life is not so ordinary after all. He matters. It’s pretty much summed up when he says that “if a guy like him can stand up and do what he did, then maybe everyone can. Maybe everyone can live beyond what they’re capable of.”

Zusak’s Australian and you can read a lot of Aussie slang in this book. It brought back memories of my boarding school and University days in Australia, and that probably made the book that little bit more special to me.

This book was written before The Book Thief and in one part of it, there is already a reference to ‘colours’ – later a theme that features prominently in The Book Thief. I guess the idea came in this book and perfected in The Book Thief.

I enjoyed this book though I do find the ending a bit of a let-down. I was hoping for a resolution, but was left with more questions than answers. It felt as though Zusak rushed the ending. I never quite understand why anyone would go through such an elaborate plot involving a bank robbery, etc just in order to get to that kind of ending with Ed. And who exactly was the mastermind?

Perhaps these things don’t matter. We should just understand the book’s message, and not the book itself.

Yes, highly recommended. Read it.

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