Skip to main content

(a kinda, sorta) Review: Room by Emma Donoghue, and the struggle to escape a reading slump

I was already familiar with Emma Donoghue's writing through her thoroughly wicked, twisted and delightful take on fairy tales, Kissing the Witch. (As a matter of fact, I think I should reread it and write a review.)

It was with some trepidation that I approached this book, knowing Donoghue can write well, and write well about dark subject matter, and the concept of this book is nothing if not dark, and unlike the fantasy of fairy tales in Kissing the Witch, Room is grounded in realism, which I have always found much chillier and more frightening than any fantasy. I had heard it variously described as horrible, fascinating, harrowing but inspirational, and several reviewers called it exploitative of the suffering of real world victims of crimes such as the one that forms the background of the story.

I knew, almost from the moment I heard of Room, that I would want to read it - not quite enough to go out and buy it, but if I came across it cheaply or for free I would definitely read it. I think the same thing about dozens of new books every year, and while I occasionally do get my hands on one and read it, I forget about most of them. After all, when you are struggling to make inroads on a TBR library of over 700 books you already own AND people keep lending you interesting books, it‘s easy to forget the „might read some day“books. 

But not this one. Every time I saw a copy or a photo of the cover, I thought „I have to get round to reading it“. Finally I came across a second hand copy, bought it and took it home with me. It went on the chair where I keep all my newly acquired books until I have time to enter then into my library database and there it sat for a few weeks while I struggled through a reading slump during which I reread lots of books in order to try to get myself in the mood for reading something new. 

And then it finally happened: I was ready for a new (to me) book. I looked at the volumes awaiting entry into my library catalogue and noticed Room at the top of the pile. I picked it up, opened it and began to read. I barely put it down again until I was about halfway through, and then finished it in one sitting the next day. 

I don‘t think it can count as a spoiler when I say that the story is clearly inspired by true stories about women kidnapped and kept as sex slaves and forced to give birth to their abductors‘s babies. The Fritzl case is the most clear inspiration and one that Donoghue has openly admitted. 

Despite what I had read about it when it first came out, I had somehow managed to miss an important fact about the story. Not knowing that, I had wondered how the author had managed to hold at bay the full horror of the situation depicted in the book. Having the narrator be a child was a stroke of genius and made it possible to keep the horrible situation on the periphery of the story, focusing instead on the narrator and his relationship with his mother. Some might say that this only makes it all the easier to let one‘s imagination take over and fill in the blanks with all kinds of horrifying details, but I found it made it easier to push all that aside and instead allow oneself to see the world of Room through the innocent eyes of the child who thinks the world consists of the room where he and his mother are incarcerated and there is nothing outside. 

Jack is a believable five-year old, bright for his age, with the wilfulness and energy of a young child, but he is stunted by the small world he has been forced to live in, and fearful of the world his mother tells him is outside the room. His mother, known simply as "Ma" comes across as brave and hopeful most of the time, except when she has bouts of depression that make one wonder if perhaps Jack is her lifeline, the thing that has made her keep on living through her captivity. 

I don't think I will say more about the plot, but I will say that I found the story inspirational and well written and I enjoyed reading it, although I don‘t think I will ever read it again. It‘s simply not that kind of book.


Popular posts from this blog

Book 40: The Martian by Andy Weir, audiobook read by Wil Wheaton

Note : This will be a general scattershot discussion about my thoughts on the book and the movie, and not a cohesive review. When movies are based on books I am interested in reading but haven't yet read, I generally wait to read the book until I have seen the movie, but when a movie is made based on a book I have already read, I try to abstain from rereading the book until I have seen the movie. The reason is simple: I am one of those people who can be reduced to near-incoherent rage when a movie severely alters the perfectly good story line of a beloved book, changes the ending beyond recognition or adds unnecessarily to the story ( The Hobbit , anyone?) without any apparent reason. I don't mind omissions of unnecessary parts so much (I did not, for example, become enraged to find Tom Bombadil missing from The Lord of the Rings ), because one expects that - movies based on books would be TV-series long if they tried to include everything, so the material must be pared down

List love: 10 recommended stories with cross-dressing characters

This trope is almost as old as literature, what with Achilles, Hercules and Athena all cross-dressing in the Greek myths, Thor and Odin disguising themselves as women in the Norse myths, and Arjuna doing the same in the Mahabaratha. In modern times it is most common in romance novels, especially historicals in which a heroine often spends part of the book disguised as a boy, the hero sometimes falling for her while thinking she is a boy. Occasionally a hero will cross-dress, using a female disguise to avoid recognition or to gain access to someplace where he would never be able to go as a man. However, the trope isn’t just found in romances, as may be seen in the list below, in which I recommend stories with a variety of cross-dressing characters. Unfortunately I was only able to dredge up from the depths of my memory two book-length stories I had read in which men cross-dress, so this is mostly a list of women dressed as men. Ghost Riders by Sharyn McCrumb. One of the interwove

First book of 2020: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach (reading notes)

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I loathe movie tie-in book covers because I feel they are (often) trying to tell me how I should see the characters in the book. The edition of Deborah Moggach's These Foolish Things that I read takes it one step further and changes the title of the book into the title of the film version as well as having photos of the ensemble cast on the cover. Fortunately it has been a long while since I watched the movie, so I couldn't even remember who played whom in the film, and I think it's perfectly understandable to try to cash in on the movie's success by rebranding the book. Even with a few years between watching the film and reading the book, I could see that the story had been altered, e.g. by having the Marigold Hotel's owner/manager be single and having a romance, instead being of unhappily married to an (understandably, I thought) shrewish wife. It also conflates Sonny, the wheeler dealer behind the retireme