Sunday 2 October 2011

Room - a one-click wonder

Room by Emma Donoghue (Picador: 2010) A novel centred on the life of Jack, a five year old who has been locked up in a single room with his mother for his whole life. As far as he’s concerned, that room is the whole world. Until his mother decides to tell him about outside. The results change both their lives.
Great ideas aren’t very difficult. We’ve all had them. A few beers , a bit of chat, a few “what if...” questions, and you’re pretty soon convinced you’ve come up with a great idea for a book or a film or a telly programme.
The premise is the easy bit. Room has a great one, I think. A book about a five year old boy who’s spent his whole life with his mum in a single room, in a Josef Fritzel sort of a way. Seeing the world through the boy’s eyes as he discovers that there’s a world outside his room – that’s a great idea for a book.
It's what made me buy it. A friend told me about it over a drink or two, and the idea was enough for me to Amazon one-click it there and then (a habit that I really need to get out of - damn one-click is dangerous).
Turning the idea into a book, that’s the difficult part.
It’s been a few days since I finished Room, and I still can’t decide if Donoghue really succeeded with it. There are a lot of things I like. It’s written in the first person, and the voice of the boy is well crafted. Donoghue never really lets the narrative break character. In places, it’s wonderfully fluent and natural. There were one or two places where the strain of maintaining the style came through, but on the whole, it was done convincingly. Which is quite impressive, given Donoghue was never actually a 5 year old boy herself (to the best of my knowledge).
The relationship the boy has with his mum is well explored as well, and Donoghue does a great job of giving some painful insights into the mother’s state of mind. Her pain and the complexity of her inner demons come through strongly, despite it all being presented through the eyes of a five year old boy. A significant trick and one achieved with style.
And the premise. I just can’t get away from the idea of the book. It’s brilliant. The idea of telling this story from the child’s perspective. The idea of a human being whose entire understanding of the world changes so radically and so swiftly. It’s just plain compelling, the more so with the real world Josef Fritzel saga in the back of your mind. I’m sure there are other examples of similar things happening, and that hint of reality gives the story a real edge.
That’s perhaps the one big weakness with this as well though, the reason why I still can’t quite decide if this is a good book or not. The premise is just so compelling that it dominates the whole of the book. I never really felt as if the story had a chance to develop fully. I knew the premise going in, and by the end I didn’t really feel as if it had been moved forward much. There just weren’t really any surprises in here, nothing new that made me feel as if the world was moving.
But I guess it’s not that kind of book. The pages flew by regardless. The idea was so fascinating, and the way it was explored was so expert, that I remained glued to it for long periods.
That’s what I love about this blog. It’s helping me think properly about what I’m reading. I started out writing this entry without a clear idea of what I felt about this book. But I’ve gone and answered my own question there, haven’t I? “I remained glued to it for long periods.” Got to have been a good book then, right? That it left me with a bit of an empty feeling, that it seemed like more could have been done with the premise, that the story seemed a little stunted – none of that matters.
Donoghue has created something that trumped all the other options I had in front of me when deciding how to spend my time. I wanted to pick the book up every day, and I didn’t want to put it down again.
It’s a great premise. It retains a well crafted voice throughout. It successfully represents a number of viewpoints through the eye of just one.
It wasn't perfect. But I can live with the flaws.
Next week, putting down the best seller list for a while to revisit one of my favourite authors for a bit of a tragic comedy. Mind you, I’m also on a stag do next week, so I may have to post the next one a bit late. I’m sure you’ll let me off though. You’re nice like that.

1 comment:

PaperblogPrincess said...

The English cover is terrifying! That kid is creeptastic. The American one just looks like the Google logo done by a toddler, which is weird.