Book review – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

ELIC CoverI don’t remember when I first heard about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, but to be honest, I think it was when the movie was released. I know I am a little late (7 years to be exact), since it was published in 2005, but I was in my last year of university in 2005/2006 and my 80-page honours thesis occupied much more of my time than reading for pleasure. Now, once I saw the trailer for the movie I obviously decided I needed to read the book first –books are ALWAYS better than the movie! So last year I bought the book and was extremely excited to read it. I read a number of rave reviews and had high expectations – I thought it would be one of my favorite reads of the year.  I even saved it for my 2013 reading challenge.

Well, I read it in February this year… and was completely disappointed by it.


exactly the type of disappointment i felt with this book!

I waited awhile to write my review, to see if my thoughts and feelings towards the book would improve or change over time. However, I have stuck with my gut on this one: it was not the reading experience I had hoped for or expected given the hype surrounding the novel.

I was disappointed for a number of reasons (beware of spoilers!):

  • Oscar’s character was a sweet boy, but sometimes it felt like his thoughts were “too old” for a 9-year-old. He could also be incredibly precocious.
  • I felt that the storyline had potential, but the way it ended was weak. When I finally read what Oscar’s key was for I was underwhelmed. Also, along the way too many things conveniently fell into place and I am not convinced any mother in this day and age would let her 9-year-old son wander NYC and its boroughs alone.
  • I really disliked the grandparents’ storyline and felt it detracted from the book because of how it was written and how weird it was. Their story could have added so much, and their characters in the present-day story did, but I just couldn’t appreciate the back story. In truth I found myself skimming some of these “past” sections to get back to Oscar’s storyline. I also found it slightly weird that grandparents would be writing to their 9-year old grandson about their sex life…
  • The literary “gimmicks” or devices – the one-word pages, a page of numbers, a redlined/edited page, pages with text over text so you cannot read it – distracted me as a reader and detracted from the book. They almost seemed solely there to keep the reader interested as the stories (past and present) waned and got boring. They make the reader think “oh this part must be important, I need to read it to see what this is all about” – only to leave us disappointed by the lack of relevance.

ELIC redlined ELIC numbers

Now don’t think me completely pessimistic about this book; there were some things I liked:

  • I appreciated the sincerity and was touched by underlying story of a boy trying to come to terms with his father’s death, and especially with his decision not to answer the phone the final time his father called. There are parts of this story that were heartbreaking.
  • Oscar’s relationship with his mother and grandmother were realistic and loving. I believe that in this situation a boy would be angry about his mother possibly moving on and dating. I loved the close relationship he kept up with his grandmother – I believe they the two hurt the most by Thomas Schell’s death: a young child losing a parent and a parent losing a child are arguable the hardest deaths to deal with. Don’t get me wrong, I do not wish to undermine the mother’s loss, but simply identify the close bond this created between Oscar and his grandmother.
  • Foer dealt with the sensitive situation of 9/11, only 4 years after it happened, in a tactful and thoughtful way. There was no talk of blame or propaganda, simply a look at how the fear and tragedy of that one event profoundly affected one family.

Overall, although there were aspects of the book I could appreciate, I was not drawn into the story and found parts of it forced or dull. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was not unputdownable. I would give it a 3 out of 5 star rating.

3 stars

Suggested Book Club Discussion Questions

  • How did you feel about the revelation of what Oscar’s key was for?
  • Did you enjoy the grandparents’ storyline? How did their story relate back to Oscar’s?
  • Did you find Oscar a realistic child character?
  • How did you feel about his relationships with his mother? Grandmother? Mr. Black, who lives upstairs?
  • How did you feel about Foer’s use of literary gimmicks/devices throughout the novel? Did they add or detract from your read?

 Have you ever been let down by a book you had high hopes for? 


About Erin Hopkin

I am a graduate of Carleton University with a Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management, with a specialization in International Studies (yes that may be the longest undergraduate degree title ever). Essentially it means I was trained to work in international policy making for the government – but that is not where I ended up. I actually work writing proposals and winning lots of business for a facility project management firm. I have always been a reader; however, my book choices have changed over the years. In university I read a lot of fantasy or books with happy endings because I was studying political science and international relations – often there are no happy resolutions to those conflicts. I now read more contemporary fiction novels with some classics, non-fiction, political and YA (a guilty pleasure) thrown in. I was drawn to the Unputdownable Book Club by my love of reading, wine and food and I am never disappointed!
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One Response to Book review – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

  1. Emily says:

    I stumbled upon your page while searching for discussion questions for this book. I think your issues with the book are totally off base, and here’s why:

    Oscar experiences qualities of someone who is autistic, which completely explains why his character acts so grown up.

    The ending may seem underwhelming, however I believe it’s realistic. People are so used to huge, dramatic endings that when something like this comes along then it doesn’t seem well done. However, I love the realistic ending and I think it gives the book a great contrast to the big, dramatic events throughout the book.

    The grandparents’ story line completely explain and describe why Oskar’s life is the way it is and totally parallels the events of 9/11. I think you missed the point there.

    Finally, each and every picture and format choice have a specific reason and echo or explain something in the book. Foer made these choices for a reason, so I think you may have not deeply analyzed his choices. You need to think about the characters and what is happening to understand the unusual formats.

    This is an incredibly book if you actually look into it and see the choices Foer makes. He is a fantastic, creative, and hilarious author.


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