#German Literature Month -‘Inkheart’ by Cornelia Funke

As November is German Literature month (hosted by Caroline at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy at Lizzy’s Literary Life) I thought I’d join in the fun by writing a review or two. As the post submissions have been predominantly about novels written by men in previous years, Caroline and Lizzy have sought to redress the balance, so this year,* weeks 1 and 3 will be focused on the writings of German women, while weeks 2 and 4 will be for books by men. I was shocked when I realised that I couldn’t even name many female German writers let alone think of any I’d read, so if I take nothing else from this month’s challenge, I’ll be making sure I rectify that for the next one. One German female writer I’ve not only heard of but read, is the popular children’s author, Cornelia Funke, who became a firm favourite with both of my children when I first read her books to them, and continues to be, with my youngest now rereading the Inkheart trilogy to herself.

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Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart (2003, translated by Anthea Bell) caused quite a stir when it was published in the UK. In the wake of Potter mania, children were clamouring for more captivating adventures to quench their renewed or newly acquired thirst for reading. While Harry Potter’s adventures married the traditional school story with the ‘quest’, the twisted plot of Funke’s tale was markedly complex in comparison. Blurring the edges of the realm of fiction with reality, Inkheart pulls the reader into a richly drawn imaginary world which is often dark and scary.

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The story begins with a girl called Meggie who lives with her father Mo, a bookbinder. Since her mother mysteriously disappeared, Mo has refused to read to Meggie, despite her love of books. A stranger arrives at their remote farmhouse with news that has Mo packing them off to her aunt Elinor’s house. Confused by their sudden departure, Meggie is nonetheless entranced by her aunt’s home packed to the rafters with books. It emerges that the reason that Mo has ceased to read to his daughter is that he has a rare gift. When he reads aloud from a book, his words summon the characters from the page into the real world. Alas, these characters exchange with real people who become trapped within the pages of the book in their place, hence the disappearance of Meggie’s mother.

The stranger, Dustfinger, is one such character, desperate to return to his book-bound home.  He came to warn that the evil Capricorn and his henchmen, whom Mo had also unwittingly unleashed into the world, are on his tail. The novel then follows Mo and Meggie’s attempts to right the chaos and return both Dustfinger and the villains to the pages of a book while also rescuing Meggie’s mother, before the villains wreck havoc on an unsuspecting world. Mo and Meggie have to enter the world of the book themselves to try and restore order, and their adventures there made for a compelling and exciting read.

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When I read aloud, I find that if the language of a book is clumsy or doesn’t easily roll off the tongue, I become too focused on the reading and can’t fully immerse myself in the story. While that doesn’t necessarily translate to the listener – well, I’ve never had any complaints – my own involvement in the story is limited by it. With Inkheart, however, from the very first page, I was right there with the characters. It was a darker book than I’d anticipated, and quite scary in places, but gripping and well-written. It’s certainly not a book for young children, or for the faint-hearted, but children who enjoy a daring adventure will love it. Inkheart is the first of a trilogy, with Inkspell, and finally Inkdeath completing the saga.

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*Oops! I’ve just realised that the gender split happened in a previous German Literature month, not this one – I’d landed on an old post by mistake. Ah well, at least my mistake meant I got to revisit an old children’s favourite, so it turned out ok in the end!

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