Book Review: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Book Review: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Shelved: Adult fiction (contemporary, historical fiction)
Rating: ★★★★
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More: Goodreads

Jodi Picoult has a talent for talking about harrowing experiences – from child abuse to suicide pacts, murder to school shootings – and forcing the reader into the minds of everybody involved. But how is it possible to do this with the Holocaust? As it turns out, very well indeed.

The Storyteller begins with Sage Singer, a young woman dealing – badly – with the loss of her mother in a car crash a few years prior. Sage attends a group created for people dealing with grief and it is there she meets Josef Weber, a quiet old man who, out of the blue, asks Sage to help him die. Why? Because, back in the 1940s, he worked in a concentration camp as a Nazi SS guard.

It is quite astonishing to me that the Holocaust was only 80 years ago; it’s really not ancient history. In the last year I’ve read books that that were published a long time before, but still felt fresh to me. Jodi Picoult almost abandons her trademark style of writing in The Storyteller (you will not find a court case here!) and instead tells a story within a story within a story, which worked remarkably. We’re introduced to characters – and their point of view – throughout the story. I became immersed, not confused, as each story progressed and as each piece of the puzzle (because there’s always a puzzle!) came together. The Storyteller also respectfully addresses the complicated matter of forgiveness and who really benefits from it.

While reading The Storyteller, I did not discover anything about the Holocaust that I did not already know – it is not meant to serve as a history lesson – but it’s the first time I’ve gotten close to thinking about what it would be like to experience Nazi cruelty first-hand. And it was the first time I thought about what Nazis themselves saw, felt and believed. It is brilliantly told and wonderfully wraps together, while still doing justice to its characters – and the real people who suffered. It’s a revealing yet unforgiving story, moving between present life as Sage struggles with what Josef has asked her to do, and Minka’s torturous story of life as a young Jewish girl under the Nazi regime.

Does The Storyteller beat Nineteen Minutes to be my favourite Jodi Picoult novel? Possibly. I’ll have to re-read Nineteen Minutes to find out, but if not, it’s close second.

Published: 26th February 2013 (US) 26th March 2013 (UK)
Publisher: Atria (US) Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Pages: 464
Source: Thank you Hodder & Stoughton for providing this book for review!
If you liked: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

9 thoughts on “Book Review: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

  1. I read 19 Minutes last month and was disappointed with the novel’s ending. I was also disappointed by Singing You Home (my first Jodi Picoult novel), but to a lesser amount. Was the ending satisfying for you?

    • I’m terrible at remembering endings! I think The Storyteller ending is satisfying and it’s to be expect that Picoult novels do generally tie up the endings very neatly, often with a huge twist, but I kind of like that.

  2. It sounds good, and I especially like what you say about it not being a history lesson. Of course knowing the history is important, but not needing to focus on it must make a lot of time for looking at the characters and the specific story Picoult wishes to tell.

    • It does refer to specific events e.g. Night of the Broken Glass but yes, not in a way that suggests she’s trying to ‘teach’ us, more as context for her characters. Hopefully people already know everything!

  3. I haven’t read anything by Picoult but have heard wonderful things so she’s an author that I must try out. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

    • She’s definitely worth trying out because if you love one, you’re pretty much certain to like her others – and she has loads! I’d suggest Nineteen Minutes, The Pact, House Rules, Plain Truth…

  4. I enjoyed this review. I am ‘put off’ of the book by the fact that it doesn’t appear to be quintessentially Jodi Picoult to me… But I think no doubt I will read, and own it, at some point considering she is one of my favourite author’s.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us 🙂

    • Thank you Jade! Although the format is different to what we usually see, it’s still very much has her ‘tone’ and emphasis on individual characters 🙂

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