Why We Broke Up – Daniel Handler
Illustrated by Maira Kalman
Publisher: Electric Monkey (Egmont)
Release Date: 6th August 2012
Edition: UK proof, unsolicited review copy
Other Titles by this Author: The Basic Eight, Watch Your Mouth, Adverbs and, as Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events
This is the box, Ed.
Inside is everything.
Two bottle caps,
a movie ticket from Greta in the Wild,
a note from you,
a box of matches,
the stolen sugar,
a toy truck,
those ugly earrings,
a comb from the motel,
and the rest of it.
This is it, Ed.
The whole story of why we broke up.
Since a few months before it’s release in the US, I have been hearing incredibly mixed things about Why We Broke Up and I was completely undecided as to whether I thought I’d enjoy it or not. I loved, loved, loved it.
I’m so glad that the lure of the unique premise and something other than A Series of Unfortunate Events from the man behind Lemony Snicket proved too much for me to resist. Even through my love of Why We Broke Up, I understand why it might not be for everyone. It has the potential to have the same effect as Marmite, I think! A large contributor to this may be because of how stylistic and self-aware of that that the novel is, at least, it seemed that way to me.
Min narrates her story in an extended letter to her ex-boyfriend, Ed. This means that we get the unusual combination of a past tense, second person narration, which although I think it’s amazing when done well, may put some people off quickly. Lucy Christopher’s debut, Stolen, one of the best books I've ever read, is written in the same style and works perfectly, but that is the only other example I can bring to mind. It’s a unique form and one that I think is quite difficult to pull off effectively. With Min and Ed’s story, Daniel Handler nailed it.
Min tells her story in a stream of consciousness, divided into chapters by an object, from a cinema ticket to a bottle cap to a t-shirt significant to the stages of their relationship. Accompanying the chapters are rich, vibrant and beautiful illustrations by Maira Halman. I loved that their position in the text occasionally varied so for a few pages you’d be reading a scene of a situation and not know what the object was until the end of the chapter, and you would only find out through the image. I thought it was a very clever to mix the two mediums and I loved it.
There is only one thing about Why We Broke Up that stopped it from being perfect for me: Ed. I really didn’t like him. Looking back on it, it was probably because I was so involved in Min’s narration where she’s telling him why they broke up and why he was wrong for her and I took that on. So in that way it could almost be a positive point for Handler’s writing, but it did distance me a little. To me, it was clear from the beginning that he wasn’t right for Min; he wasn’t clever enough, passionate enough, weird enough. It was the kind of relationship that was perfectly doomed from the very start.
Why We Broke Up is a beautiful bittersweet and incredibly stylish novel and I hope to see more from Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman very, very soon.