My father trusted me with the details of his death.
To call Jodi Picoult my guilty pleasure would do her a disservice – she’s a fantastic writer – but she is a writer whom I turn to when I want a thought provoking yet easy read. I have read most of her books and love the way she weaves ethical issues into a modern narrative. Some of my favourite modern reads are Picoult’s but to read more than one on the trot exposes the formulaic structure a fair few of her titles follow – sorry, but its true! The Storyteller was my first Picoult in about two years and is definitely up there as one of her best.
Sage Singer doesn’t really like being around people. She works nights baking bread in a local café and generally keeps herself to herself. She goes to a grief support group in an attempt to face her demons and there meets a quiet, old man. An unlikely friendship develops but is threatened when Josef asks Sage a question that he shouldn’t ask and she doesn’t know how to answer…
As with all Picoult’s stories, The Storyteller has a central premise and in this case it’s the concept of forgiveness. It’s a complex and difficult area to explore, particularly in the context of The Storyteller, which examines the right to forgive and who benefits from the act of forgiving. You’ll ponder Sage’s dilemma long after you’ve finished reading and there’s a lot of content within the book to make it a perfect book group read.
The story is written using multiple narrators, each voicing a chapter (or chapters) at a time. Picoult’s strength is writing in the first person and her effortless ability to shift perspective and create different yet equally convincing characters carries the story masterfully. Josef’s tale of growing up in pre-war Germany is insightful and complex; Minka’s dark and reluctant reminiscences of her time in incarceration is harrowing but effective; and Sage’s story provides an excellent link between those secrets of past and what lies in the future.
There is a secondary narrative interspersed throughout The Storyteller, an italicised sub-narrative about a mysterious stranger visiting a village. I think this will be a crowd divider and I’m loath to say that I fell quite heavily on one side of the fence, feeling it an unnecessary addition and it became a bit of a distraction to Picoult’s detailed main storyline. Picoult clearly researches her novels thoroughly before writing, it’s part of why she is so successful, and yet I felt her truth became a little murkier with this vampiric second tale.
Overall, however, The Storyteller is a gripping novel with a dark but important message. It focuses on people living through one of the darkest periods in human history and Picoult’s writing not only makes it relevant but also makes it real.