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Jodi Picoult's The Storyteller

Books & Poetry

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Can a murderous man find redemption? Should great evil be forgiven? Can you rightfully offer forgiveness when you are not the one who was hurt? These are just some of the questions posed to the reader in Jodi Picoult’s powerful new novel The Storyteller.

Emotionally and physically scarred, young Sage Singer has spent most of her adult life shying away from human contact. Revelling in her solitary job as a baker, her main source of companionship is the married man with whom she spends her nights. This all changes when she strikes up an unlikely friendship with Josef Weber, an elderly man beloved by many in her small community. Josef, like Sage, is struggling to cope with his own troubled past, and as their friendship blossoms he asks Sage to do him one small favour. Kill him.

When Sage refuses, Josef reveals long-buried secrets about his past – a life filled with violence and incredible acts of cruelty. As his shocking story unfolds, Sage must decide: can she really kill a man, even if he does deserve to die? And would doing so make her a murderer, too? Or would it bring justice to those affected by his actions?

I won’t reveal the exact nature of Josef’s crimes, but suffice to say there were times when I found The Storyteller extremely challenging to read. Picoult’s gift for descriptive writing enables her to bring the story to life with vivid details and emotionally complex characters.

Sage Singer is an enigma. The tragic events of her past have all but destroyed her self-esteem, and her distorted sense of “right” and “wrong” is further tested by Josef’s confronting admissions, yet she also possesses an incredible strength which compels her to investigate his claims and bring him to justice, one way or another. Josef is equally complex; an emotionally frail man who is clearly ashamed of his past but also seems to be trying to justify his actions. Are humans simply products of our environment, and if we are, can we be blamed for our actions? Is our behaviour pre-determined or can we choose a different path?

With its powerful messages about forgiveness and justice, The Storyteller is a confronting and thought-provoking novel about a time in our history which should never be forgotten. It reminds us of the power of the human spirit.

The Storyteller, By Jodi Picoult, is published by Allen & Unwin, $29.99

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