Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The Shack

A few weeks ago my mum said, "I've got a novel for you to read; it's called The Shack and... Well, I'm not really enjoying it, but I want someone else to read it so I know I'm not crazy for not liking it."

"What's it about?" I asked.

"It's about this man, and his young daughter is killed by a serial killer, and then a few years later he gets a note from God saying that he has to come to the shack where his daughter was killed - "


"- yeah, and then, when he's there, he meets God. And God is three people: an old black woman, a thirty-something Middle-Eastern man and a young Asian woman."

"Shall I just read it?"

"Maybe you'll like it more than I did," she said, "I skipped the last quarter to go straight to the end..."

So, once I had finished a stack of library books I borrowed it and started reading. The basic outline is exactly as my mum described it, and one would think that that opened up a lot of possibilities for an interesting story. Instead...

I'm going to be as concise as possible about the experience; from the front and back cover heaping praise on it, and the two pages of people giving quotes inside it - and in some ways throughout the story - it smacks of being a book that is going to desperate lengths to get itself noticed. At points it does this to the distraction of the story itself. There's a covering story, that the person who has written it is a friend of the person who all this happened to; this device bookends the story. The (fictional) writer has done a disservice to his friend; the narrator often refers to the protagonist's grief as The Great Sadness - italicised every time and always with capitals - and as strange as it seems at those (frequent) points it becomes absolutely ridiculous when the protagonist refers to his grief as The Great Sadness when talking to others...

My mum says that she hated the book; I don't know if I would go that far. I couldn't recommend it to anyone, I really couldn't. Some elements of the story challenged my own personal faith, but not in a positive way - in some ways it made me think, "Am I foolish for having religious faith?" One of the themes that runs through the story is that humans by and large don't really understand that faith (the Christian faith) is not about rules and religions, but about relationships. But then, why should we believe the message of the author? What does he offer apart from an argument that "other people get it wrong"?

Fundamentally, I didn't enjoy reading the book. The pacing is weird, the writing is quite strange at times and to my ear the dialogue rarely rang true, as if it had been written for two people sat on a chat show couch having a staged conversation. The denouement was the final straw, offering with one hand proof that the man had experienced everything that he said he did up at the shack and then taking away with the other what little internal logic the story had by summing up the consequences of this in a few lines.

As I said, the covers carry many endorsements and facts about sales - New York Times #1, a million copies sold - and the inside back cover asks people to blog about the book once they've read it, get the word out, etc. Well, here's my review: "Don't read The Shack. It's a frustrating, poorly written thesis on faith dressed up as an Oprah/Richard & Judy novel of the week."


Matt_Evans said...

Hahaha, both of my parents read this over Christmas and absolutely loved it.

And apparently the author went through a lot of trouble to get this thing published... I forget exactly how that story goes

zero_zero_one said...

I Wikied it earlier; I didn't get the sense that he went through a lot of trouble. I think it was turned down a few times, and so a couple of friends got together and started a publishing company just to publish it. It went on to become a sleeper hit.

Like I said, I didn't hate it, but man do I dislike it. Heck, I don't have a book with (according to Wiki) five million copies in print, so what do I know??? ;)

Sarah Monteith said...

Interesting... I've read a lot about it but not read the book itself...

Feels a little like it's americanisized supersize christianity? From the reviews it did, anyway...

You've saved me some time lol x