Saturday, 18 September 2010

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room by Emma Donoghue (HarperCollins 2010)

Based roughly on the case of Josef Fritzl who incarcerated and repeatedly raped his daughter Elisabeth, Room tells the story of a woman, kidnapped at the age of 19 by Old Nick and held in captivity over a number of years. Told from the point of view of her five year old son Jack, 'Room' is essentially Jack's universe where everything that exists outside of the sphere of his physical experience is 'TV'. That is until one day 'Ma' learns that 'Old Nick' has been made redundant and she realises that the relative status quo of her past existence in 'Room' has the chance of coming to an abrupt end were the house to fall into foreclosure and so she has to escape one way or another.

Did I mention the fact that the narrative came from Jack, the five year old boy? If I repeat myself it's because that it is something that needs to be seriously driven home. No matter how intelligent or how wide the vocabulary of a child of five years, he is still only five and 300 pages is a long time to go in the mind, as it were, of a five year old. At first this narrative style annoyed me to the stage that my teeth ached and even after I grew somewhat accustomed to it as the book went on, I was glad to be finished. The concept of the book is pretty morbid but there is lots of scope there for examining the impact of such a traumatic life experience on the characters not to mention how one would go about child-rearing under such extreme circumstances so it is understandable that a novel has been written on the subject however the narrative is so important to any novel that it simply shouldn't be left to a five year old to carry all by themselves.

My first reaction to this book was a violent dislike and from working in a book shop I know that quite a few people have given up on this book early on, probably people who were equally put off by the childish voice introducing them to the world of Room. I started to warm to it as events unfolded (something I didn't forsee at the outset) and I will concede that this is quite an original book on a very difficult subject and told, and developed in an intelligent way (even if it would not be the way I'd do it). Room has also been subject of many laudatory reviews and is a front-runner for the Booker Prize. This is where I start to get a sense of deja vu; here we have a book I didn't particularly like but that was loved by the critics and is also favourite with the bookies. If it does go on to win this will be exactly what happened with Wolf Hall last year! Although whereas I wanted AS Byatt's 'Children's Book' to win last time round, there has been none of the short listed books leap out of the list at me as particularly worthy winners this year but as I'm only half way through the list I shall put off my wailing and lambasting the state of modern fiction, well, at least till I've read another one.

The narrative let it down for me: