Wednesday 18 May 2011

Bunch of Cults

I hope to make this an ongoing series looking at books and movies that I have been meaning to read/watch and have now got round to. What makes these stories special is that they have a non-mainstream sensibility and may not be overtly commercial, but have managed to find a place within the collective consciousness.

The first book I want to look at is Room by Emma Donoghue. A prize-winning novel about a woman and her young son trapped in a room and occasionally visited by their captor.

The Hook
The book is narrated by a five-year-old boy who has known nothing of the world apart from the room he has always lived in. As far as he's concerned nothing else exists and this is quite a bold concept. The combination of child narrator and very restricted environment means there is not much raw material to play with, which means squeezing out as much story as she does takes a great deal of skill. The danger is it can end up feeling gimmicky.

The limited scope can quite easily put people off. A lot of time is spent going into great detail about fairly mundane matters. Within the context of the story you can see why she does this, but you can also see why it might put people off. In addition, the horrific nature of her confinement is not particularly appealing for someone looking for a fun read.

Live up to the hype?
It is well written, but feels like a novella padded out to novel length. The narrator is meant to be five years old but sounds a lot older. To some extent this is a conceit you need since a book really written in the voice of a five-year-old would be practically unreadable. But it still tends to be jarring at certain points. Another problem was that it had the quality of a mother who claims her child is ‘so advanced for his age’, only in this case he really was and so it smacked of wish fulfilment.

I also found the female character to be a bit Mary Sue-ish. She is the victim who has no way out and nobly does the best she can to protect her son. Superficially this is admirable, if a bit simplistic for a novel. Metaphorically, and all stories have a degree of subtext to them, it seems to be a reflection on how women are treated by men. How abusive relationships are dealt with by the women in them and how society views those women. Again the approach is very simplistic, very black and white, and I felt like I was being lectured to at certain points.

Towards the end of the novel there is an escape which is so ludicrous as to be laughable. This added to the feeling that this was more allegory than narrative fiction. It was like the writer needed the child to escape so she just glossed over a rough outline of how it might have happened. That simplistic approach is both the strength of the book, making it easy to read, and its weakness, making it easy to dismiss.

Strong prose, but a simplistic view of a complex situation that didn't merit the length it took to tell it. Viewing it from the perspective of a child also made it too narrow a view of events. I can see why it would appeal to some readers and be completely unappealing to others. Ultimately I didn't really believe it.

Have you read this book? What did you think?


Donna K. Weaver said...

I've heard of it but not read it.

Steve Abernathy said...

Haven't read it yet but will. Read that it was based on that sick crime in Austria.

Anna said...

I have been avoiding this book. I've heard the ending is disturbing and I'd rather stick to her historical fiction.

McKenzie McCann said...

I have the worse time keeping up on my media. I'm currently trying to read four books at once and I still have movies from 2008 I've been meaning to watch.

I can empathize with your pain.

Alleged Author said...

I agree that portrayal of abuse shouldn't be do simplistic. I do like reading these analyses quite a bit!

Unknown said...

I've read it it, and loved it. There was something about the great detail of mundane, every day activities that I really enjoyed. To a degree I agree with you about the limited scope from a child's point of view, but on the other hand it was a refreshing kind of perspective. At least for me.

Overall I enjoyed it.

Laura Josephsen said...

I haven't read it, but I've heard of it. I've been curious about others' thoughts on it, though, so thanks for sharing yours.

Sophia said...

I liked this book. I agree that Jack had some pretty advanced grammar/syntax for a 5yo but I felt that this was kind of 'made up for' by the fact that his motor and social skills were so underdeveloped. I sometimes got frustrated by Jack missing things (because of his age) but that did feel real. I'm not sure I thought too much about the believability of the escape attempt but I do remember being scared for Jack so obviously I had some emotional investment.
- Sophia.

mooderino said...

Thanks for all the comments.

@Donna-not a classic, but well written if you're in the mood for it.

@Steve-it has some loose association to the Fritzl case. One of the issues I had was the kind of domination Fritzl was able to aommand over his captive had a lot to do with her being his daughter. In this story she is taken as a college student and her behaviour doesn't really ring true. I'd say The Collector by John Fowles is a much better literary representation of this kind of situation.


@Anna - the ending isn't particularly disturbing, although the whole thing has a rather unpleasant vibe running through it.

@McKenzie-I'm going to try to use this blog to work my way through my ever-expanding TBR pile.


@Caitlin-I know quite a few people who have enjoyed it. I think it has a 'fight for my child' tone that is appealing. But for me there was just too much convenient stuff needed to make it work though.


@Sophia-the whole mother/child thing was effectively written, but just felt a bit heavy-handed for me. I think young mothers would especially connect with this book, but that's just a guess.

Nicole said...

Nope, I haven't read this book but I was going to after reading the description of "Room," lol.

In just a few minutes, your review changed my mind about wanting to read it, especially if it's too simplistic and does not provide enough depth that the situation would normally call for, so I guess I'll pass on this one, lol.

I'm not big on a lot of novels in general, so it's a hard sell getting me to read's good that you have provided a nice overview to help others make more informed decisions regarding whether to read it or whether to pass on it.

The description of being trapped in a room reminded me of that movie "Panic Room" with Jodie Foster and Forrest Whittaker. If you like the trapped plots in general, "Buried" starring Ryan Reynolds is a goodie!

The Madlab Post

Paula RC said...

I loved your review. I have heard of the book and saw a programme where the book had been shorted listed for some prize or other. It isn't the sort of book I would reach for. It kind of reminds me of that real sad case of the woman who was raped by her father and locked up with her children under the house where her mother lived. she'd been there for 25 years and no one know and her children hadn't ever seen the sun, snow or felt rain, very, very sad. So I wouldn't enjoy reading even a fiction book of that kind.

mooderino said...

@Nicole - it isn't that sort of high tension story, more a contemplative approach exploring the nature of life and love and the relationship between a mother and child.

@Jarmara- it is sort of inspired by the Fritzl case you refer to and has many of those elements, although it isn't graphic about it.

Ben said...

Yeouch. You're pretty harsh. Doesn't it get a few extra points for trying to tackle an issue of unspeakable horror at least? I don't see the point of making the point of view of a five years old if he's an ordinary, even unstimulated five years old. In fact. I want to read it more now. NICE WORK

N. R. Williams said...

I'm looking forward to hearing what you learn.
N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium

mooderino said...

@Ben-I feel my harshness is one of my best qualities (which should give you a good idea what my other qualities are like).

To be honest this story isn't about the horrors of being kidnapped and forced to have sex with a psycho, all that stuff is used as a metaphor for relationships in general and the role of woman/mother within society. Obviously it's an extreme version of that, but the actual reality of being kidnapped etc is not really the issue here. Of course that's just my take on it. Anyone who has read any of my Chapter One Analyses
will know I have a highly subjective way of looking at these things.

If you get round to reading it let me know what you think.

@nancy-you'll find my ponderings in the body of the post above, let me know what you think.

Anonymous said...

My daughter just started reading it and is lending it to me when she's finished. I've heard such mixed reviews about this one!

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Interesting review. Kinda reminds me of those stories you read where someone is being held against their will in underground concrete bunkers (like in Europe).

Michael Di Gesu said...

How unusual.... A five-year-old's pov.

Confinement is not something I would enjoy reading about, but I must admit this story has it's merits.

Thanks for introducing it to us Mood.

dolorah said...

hmm, sounds kinda preachy and moralistic; but overall my reading taste. I'll put it on my TBR - maybe list.

Thanks for the review.


Linda Leszczuk said...

I enjoyed Room. I got caught up in the author's attempt to see the world as a five year old raised in such strange circumstances would see it. Was she always spot on? Maybe not, but I applaud the effort and think the book is well worth reading.

mooderino said...

@word nerd - let us know what you make of it.

@Michael O - it's sort of based on those stories (Josef frotzl was the recent famous one).

Michael Di G - it's definitely an unusual approach. cheers for the comment.

@Donna - I wouldn't say it was overly moralising, but it was kind of leading you in a very obvious direction. Not much complexity.

@Linda - I think it failed in the realism aspect so much that it only became about the metaphor and the characters were reduced to cyphers, making it a bit sterile for me. If you buy into it I guess it works better.

Sylvia Ney said...

I have not read it, but it sounds interesting! Come share your favorite blogs!

Tatum Flynn said...

Very interesting review. I've heard nothing but glowing reviews of this, so it's nice to hear another point of view. I'm not planning to read it because it just sounds like such depressing subject matter, I like my books a tad cheerier.

Shannon said...

Great review. I have not heard of the book before. Sounds like a great premise and a great book for rich prose. Thanks for the review.

Rebecca Bradley said...

I know this is an old post but I saw it at the end of a current post as something I might be interested in and was drawn to it.

I downloaded this book and struggled to read it. I rarely stop reading a book, but it didn't take me long to put this book down and not pick it up again. I haven't reviewed it because I didn't read enough of it to do a review and I felt as though there must be something wrong with me because the book has such great reviews. It's interesting to read that someone else hasn't quite taken to it either.

Brent Wescott said...

Moody, I finally finished Room so I finally read your review about it. I agree with you on most of what you say. I liked the pov, but found the story itself pretty simplistic. There was so much that could happen after the escape, which was believable to me, but happened too quickly in the book. But it doesn't really live up to what Donoghue puts out there as the new danger or conflict once they're out. The boy has only one (barely) breakdown, and the mother's breakdown seems glossed over. I do like the ending. It's cathartic for the characters and reader.

Anonymous said...

Yes I read this book and I think that were any of us in that situation our options would be as limited as the poor woman described. In focusing on her son she is finding something to hold on to. This kind of thing happens all too often and I didn't feel in the least lectured to at any point in the novel. They say that those who survive prison captivity are either those who hate or those who love. All others have a much harder time because they have nothing to focus on.

The only thing that really bugged me about the book (being a Speech Therapist)was the baby talk the boy uses, but I realised that this was a device to make everyone realise how young and vulnerable and naive he was because by telling it through his eyes the book was much more powerful, so I went with it. My friend said she didn't like the schmultzy ending, but I decided it was acceptable and I give the book 5 stars :O)

Dana said...

Agreed! I found it riveting and well written.

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