The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai – Audiobook Review

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai, narrated by Emily Bauer
Published in audio by Highbridge Audio; published in print by Viking, an imprint of Penguin


Liberal librarian Lucy Hull is not exactly what one would call happy in her life in Hannibal, Missouri. The one bright spot in her life is 10-year-old Ian Drake, the most spirited, voracious reader in Hannibal. Ian is also quite possibly gay, and the son of incredibly conservative Christian parents who have him enrolled in a religious program designed to turn him straight. When Ian runs away from home, his first stop is the library, where Lucy finds him early one morning. Somehow they end up in her car, with Lucy basically stuck continuing on with him in order to avoid the appearance of having kidnapped  him.

Thoughts on the story:

Lucy is an incredibly obnoxious character from the get-go. Her self-righteous indulgence gives The Borrower a feeling of being about ISSUES. Now, my personal beliefs line up more or less with Lucy’s, but her attitude is an incredible turn-off, as is her inability to admit agency for anything that happens in her life. This combination of character traits garners no sympathy for her in the early pages of the book, as much as she feels that she has been trapped into the pseudo-kidnapping. Luckily much of this self-righteousness wears off over the course of the book, making her bearable by the end.

One particularly interesting device in The Borrower is the co-opting of children’s book plots such as Where’s Spot and The Very Hungry Caterpillar to show Lucy’s physical and emotional state of being. It is certainly clever in a book where the main character is a children’s librarian, but nearly every time it simply seems to go on too long. It also seems a little strange that the books whose plots are co-opted are geared to such young children, when Lucy’s favorite patron at the library is 10.

Thoughts on the audio production:

I must say, if I had encountered The Borrower in print, I’m not sure I would have even bothered to finish it. It was only Emily Bauer’s young and naive voice that began to give me a modicum of sympathy for Lucy as she began to realize just how much of a mess she had made of things. Bauer’s narration wasn’t perfect – her Russian accents left something to be desired, which is a bit of a problem in a book with multiple Russian characters – but in general I think that she added a good deal to my enjoyment of the story.


This ended up as a fairly engaging listen despite some significant problems in the beginning. If you are going to experience it, I recommend audio.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Publisher, via LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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13 comments to The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai – Audiobook Review

  • I had some issues with this one as well (was interested in Ian but thought it was completely improbable that an adult would act this way) but my best friend just finished it and was raving about it. The literary references were really cool, though, and I’m sure I even missed a few. Thanks again for doing Sound Bytes!

  • Pam

    Interesting. I was sort of hoping that this would be totally stellar as the premise and cover have been calling my name. I’ll still take a pass at it but I’m sorry that it didn’t really work for you. :O/

  • I feel the exact same way about this book and the characters, I actually find Ian a little annoying too at the moment.

    That’s awesome you are starting a Friday audiobook meme! Since the last Audiobooks Week, I’ve started incorporating them more into my reading sessions. Its just hard to find a good narrator to keep my attention.

  • Hmmm… I was interested in this one as well although I have it in print. We’ll see if I get to it, but I don’t think I’ll make it a priority.

  • Knowing my mood lately, I doubt I could tolerate annoying characters. I’m listening to a middle reader right now with alot of magical stuff and running around, and I’m rolling my eyes. No audios reviewed this week, but you’ll get two five star ones next week!

  • I am pretty sure I will be skipping this one. It just doesn’t grab me.

  • Hello, I finally listened to Wolf Hall, and loved it very much. Here is my link:
    Did you know I introduced a new meme? I called it I Love France, about books, movies related to France. come, visit, and link, and spead the good news, LOL. Thanks.
    Emma @ Words And Peace

  • Hmm, the premise sounds intriguing, but I’m currently not feeling very tolerant of annoying characters. I’ll keep it in mind when I’m in a better reading mood :-).

  • Jen…I thoroughly agree with your assessment of The Borrower…in fact, even though I love audios, I couldn’t finish it. My Abandoned Book comments are on the blog. I did link above to another audio review “Burnt Mountain” by Anne Rivers Siddons–one of my favorite authors. It was a great read.

  • Amy

    I’m disappointed about this book since the premise sounds intriguing Characters are really important to me and the fact that Lucy is so obnoxious and self-righteous and more (it sounds like) and then Ian who is with her much of the time, is annoying, is a real turn-off for me, particularly as it sounds like they are this way for most of the book although you mention that Lucy’s self-righteous attitude wears off. I’m not fond of main characters who are very difficult to like or even tolerate, it colors the story for me. I’m not sure this is a book for me. If I decide to give it a try, I think I’ll opt for the audio since it sounds a little better than the print version.
    Thank you for your sincere and honest review, Jen!

  • since I almost always have issues with audios, I will skip this one I think.