Room – Review – ****

Alright, fine, I read it, everyone. Next is The Hunger Games. Like I don’t have enough to do.

When I was a kid I thought my mom was the most beautiful person in the word, and couldn’t understand why she didn’t realise it. It is clear that Emma Donoghue has kids, and an excellent imagination, because she is very good at telling the behind-the-scenes thought processes for the gibberish that comes out of kids’ mouths.

Room, for those few who don’t know, is about a kidnapped and imprisoned woman, and the child she raises in captivity for 5 years, told from the perspective of the child, Jack. It is split into 5 parts, but the story is easily divided into before the escape, and after. According to Donoghue, Room was inspired (or “triggered” in her words) by the true story of Felix and Elisabeth Fritzl.

Five-year-old Jack’s voice lends itself well to much of the narrative, especially the tense scenes – techniques such as minimal punctuation, run on sentences, and jumping from action to action, scene to scene, match well to the vivid, immediate, and blunt communication style of children. But choosing to stick with Jack’s voice for the whole novel also lead to some unfortunate limitation. I wish we got to know a bit more about Ma and Old Nick, for example, although I understand the choice not to tell us – at 5 children don’t see their parents as people, they see them as “Ma” (and “Pa”). There were also some inconsistencies that it seemed like it would have been easy to fix; substituting “bad” for “terrible” when Jack describes how he’s feeling wouldn’t lose anything regarding the impact of the narrative, and it also wouldn’t jar us out of the illusion that we’re seeing through a 5-year-old’s eyes. You can’t have the kid unable to properly structure a simple sentence in one paragraph, and suddenly able to form complex phrases in the next.

Another criticism: All of the above (or the notes for it, anyway) was written about 3/5 of the way through the book. Everything that happened next, while perfectly entertaining and equally as well-written as the rest of the book, was really just re-establishing themes, thoughts, and ideas that had already been expressed before. It reminded me a bit of Wall-E or Up (or a short story called “I, Fly” I wrote many years ago) – the beginning is this perfect kernel of an idea, beautifully formed and expressed, and the rest is just padding, or at least not as effective. The entire speech-less part of Wall-E is one of the best things I have ever seen. The rest of the movie is solid and entertaining. Up has this phenomenal love story in the first, what, 10 minutes of the movie, and the rest of it has talking dogs and a bird named Kevin. It’s fun, it’s well-done. Room started out claustrophobic and fascinating. Then there was the rest. And it was fine.

I also don’t know what to do about references to current popular culture. Donoghue name drops Dora and Twilight and facebook – it’s not a bad thing, we all understand what she means, but how is the book going to read 50 years from now? I’m trying to think back on other classics, and note the pop culture they reference. I guess there’s quite a bit in Shakespeare, which is why so many editions of his plays tend to come with explanatory footnotes? I don’t know. I think it’s an interesting discussion.

One thing I hated that was totally not the book’s fault: when I read a book or author intently for any period of time longer than a day, I start to think in their phrasing, just for a little while. After I finished Pride and Prejudice, I started thinking in older English. After finishing Catch-22, I started thinking in run-on sentences. After finishing P.G. Wodehouse, I started thinking in humourously posh sentences. And after finishing Room,  I started thinking like Emma Donoghue’s version of a 5 year old. “Damn, I forgot to wash Pot this morning. I MEAN THE POT. THE.”

But I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I wouldn’t thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who can take the subject matter. Also, fair warning: as a journalism graduate with a brother in law school, I have to admit journalists and lawyers do not come across well here.

So in summation, it didn’t change my life or anything, but it was exactly what I’ve been looking for in a book these days – Room is new (by which I mean the subject matter hasn’t been done to death), engrossing, and easy, but not simple.

Cannonball Read III: 29/52

(Cannonball Read IV: 1/21)

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Posted on February 16, 2012, in 100 things in 1000 days, Book Reviews, Books, Cannonball Read 4 and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. HOW DARE YOU SAY MEAN THINGS ABOUT UP?!

    Your betrayal of Pixar notwithstanding, this seems like a really cool book. When I’m done LOTR I might pick it up.

  2. What mean? I loved Up as much as Wall-E, I just think the first bits of both were perfection, and what came after was an inevitable (but RELATIVE) disappointment.

  3. Most books worth their salt have references to contemporary culture. It’s just that those references sound ‘classic’ to us in older workds because they have become part of what we think of as ‘art’.

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