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Last night I was plagued by the insomnia that often plagues me each school holidays. I tossed and turned for hours, willing myself to just fall asleep, and finally (at 3am) I had to give up. Then I had to find an alternative activity, and a nice quiet one, so I might still stand a chance at falling asleep. For some reason, I decided that my best option was therefore to read a book.

Two hours and 234 pages later, I emerged having read a good, meaningful book and in no mood to go to sleep. The book I chose was one that had been waiting for me since I was a year eight: I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier. The title is silly, which is what drew my sister’s eye to it in the first place. “Hahaha! Some guy wrote a novel about cheese!” In response to her laughter I picked up the book and read the blurb, and although distinctly devoid of cheese, it intrigued me enough for me to purchase the book. Just… not actually read the book. Until today.

Briefly, I really liked I Am the Cheese. Perhaps it was inevitable that I would like it. It deals with themes and concepts that fascinate me, and the writing style — while unusual and variable — also ensured I stuck around. The book might have been more disjointed as a result, but it’s the kind of book that disjointedness suits. Switching from one style to the next so frequently didn’t detract from the book, but added to it.

The language used in the novel is fairly simple; the book isn’t one of those where you have to frown occasionally and wonder what this word or that sentence meant. Description is also somewhat sparse; it’s given for important things but not just for the hell of it or to slow the novel to a standstill. Disjointedness aside, the novel is extremely readable.

The plot, I thought, was wonderful. This was mainly because it was comprised of ideas which really interested me. The first “theme”, if you could call it that, is identity. I Am the Cheese is a weird tale of self-discovery, and features a main character trying to work out who he is. By the end of the story, not only have we worked out who he is and who he was, but also who he will be. The second is the theme of governmental wrongdoing. Cormier had become disillusioned with his government following the scandals of the Nixon era, and his novel reflects that.

The characterisation was less wonderful. Main character aside, everyone falls neatly into all-too-common stereotypes: the wild and carefree girl, for instance, or the kindly old guy who takes pity on our young protagonist because his own son died in battle. Characters who aren’t really very original, and who don’t stand out as individuals. Characterisation is usually a massive thing for me, so this is somewhat disappointing. However, to some extent I don’t think this novel really needs well-developed characters; the plot just doesn’t necessitate them. It still would have been nice, though.

The novel could be described as a mystery as well as a “weird tale of self-discovery”. Certainly, clues and revelations have to be distributed evenly throughout the novel, leading up to a big denouement at the end. I Am the Cheese does this extremely well. The novel starts slowly, and increases in speed until it is ambling along at a really nice pace. The pacing is exceedingly good… until the end. The conclusion seems to begin on the sixteenth-last page. Lots of interesting, juicy, and vital information is crammed into the very last few pages. You have to read over them carefully, or else (like me) get left thinking, “…huh? Did I miss something?” I had to read over those pages a second time, and much more slowly than I’d read the previous 225 pages. Which was kind of annoying.

So, that’s my review… type… thing. Hopefully you extracted some entertainment value from reading it! Has anyone else here read I Am the Cheese? What did you think of it? Perhaps more importantly, does anyone have any suggestions as to what I should read next?

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4 Comments

  1. A couple of years ago, Cormier’s book After the First Death was on the year 10 reading list. It’s the only book of his I’ve read (although I have a feeling I was meant to read The Chocolate War at some stage…). Your description of the characterisation in Cheese matches what I thought of the characterisation in Death, but I would say it’s worth a read. You’ll get through it in a night if you are suffering insomnia – hopefully that won’t happen too regularly!

  2. Wow, I never heard of that book. It sounds like something I would like, though. I might have to put it on my reading list. 🙂

  3. jeez jess insomnia seems to be unwelcomed, where as most of last year you wpouldn’t want to sleep. anyways sounds like the typical you & but i have to admit the book sounds cool.
    hey call me!!!!

  4. Monisha, that is a blatant lie. I LOVED sleep last year. I just didn’t get much when I was overloaded with assignments. 😛 And I will call you, but I’ve been busy with schoolwork this week. I promised I would!!


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