Review: The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis

Publication Date: January 1st, 2012
Amulet Books
Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Anna and Abel couldn’t be more different. They are both seventeen and in their last year of school, but while Anna lives in a nice old town house and comes from a well-to-do family, Abel, the school drug dealer, lives in a big, prisonlike tower block at the edge of town. Anna is afraid of him until she realizes that he is caring for his six-year-old sister on his own. Fascinated, Anna follows the two and listens as Abel tells little Micha the story of a tiny queen assailed by dark forces. It’s a beautiful fairy tale that Anna comes to see has a basis in reality. Abel is in real danger of losing Micha to their abusive father and to his own inability to make ends meet. Anna gradually falls in love with Abel, but when his “enemies” begin to turn up dead, she fears she has fallen for a murderer. Has she?
Award-winning author Antonia Michaelis moves in a bold new direction with her latest novel: a dark, haunting, contemporary story that is part mystery, part romance, and part melodrama.

WARNING:  Dark, dark, dark themes!

The Storyteller is not your average YA. Heck, it’s not even your average fiction. The rating that I’m giving this book is based on my reading experience. It’s during these moments that I regret ever rating books in the first place. I feel I’m being unfair. I must admit that there is a great divide between this book and some of the other three-starred books I’ve rated in the past. But this is where the dilemma really lies, isn’t it? Books are never rated equal. While the intricately woven fairy tale embedded in this novel was a heartbreakingly, beautiful story, I had a hell of a time appreciating the parallels between what’s real and what’s imagined. I found myself at an impasse. Yes, it was ingenious. Yes, the story is worlds apart from the usual YA books on my shelves. But at the end of the day, the only question that lingers in my mind is whether or not I enjoyed it. I, unfortunately did not. It felt much like pulling teeth trying to finish this book.

What the author achieved in this book is quite remarkable. Writing one story is a feat in itself. But to write two in one is mind blowing, factoring in the fairy tale quality to the other story, then you’ve got yourself a masterpiece. Not to mention that the stories have to somehow coincide with one another. I have asked myself why I couldn’t force myself to like this. And the only honest answer I could give, is that it takes a certain type of intellect to discover the complexities hidden in the little niches of this novel. I just…didn’t have it in me. While I can appreciate the urbane talent that the author so obviously possessed, I have to admit that I was looking for that seamless quality to better bridge the transitions between the fairy tale being told and the present events. I was jumping all over the place and confused most of the time. I have this inane urge to separate the stories just to see if one would make sense without the other.

The Storyteller is a very dark book. I wonder if it was the intention of the author to wrap us up in the world of a fairy tale to cushion the fall. I am surprised that Micha was not as screwed up as someone of her age would, having grown up with the harsh realities of her life.  I just want to take her and give her a good home. Abel has his moments, weaknesses and strengths. But through all the unforgivable things that he’s done, the love he has for his sister was his only saving grace and perhaps the only good, constant thing. As for Anna, I’m on the fence.

This was a German-translated-to-English book. I am left to wonder if something got lost in the shuffle, because I found the characters to be distant and cold. The dialogues felt much like it was being rehearsed, obnoxiously by some bit actors. There’s also a formality to how they speak that added to the robotic timbre of their voices. But perhaps I’m imagining too much. Perhaps I’ve just been focused on the thought that this was a translated novel that I couldn’t get past it – expected the detachment, even.

I wish I’d taken notes. But I’ve never been a believer of that method of reading. This book edicts that you are at your full capacity when you take it on – you cannot blink, skip a page, and/or take a break. I did all three. I was drowsy from flu meds, bored by the monotonous tone of the characters, finished a couple of other books while I lamented on whether or not I should continue reading. So really, it’s all my fault. I didn’t give it the attention it needed. Having read my drivel, I think it’s pretty clear that I’ve painfully struggled to give it the review it deserved.

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