Its a big decision, what to discuss in my first 'literary' blog. I thought a short piece on a poem would be a good way to ease myself and any prospective readers into the idea of a new blog and started a piece on Blake's 'Jerusalem'. The short piece turned into a rather baggy monster due to my passion for both Blake and the poem and still needs a lot of work although I am promising myself to cut it back to a presentable length soon.
Anyway, having made this decision I sat down, finished the latest who dunnit I was reading [Ian Rankin's The Compaints, rather good actually but I still miss Rebus] and thought it about time I made inroads into the 2010 Booker Short List which to my shame I haven't yet started despite having received all six for Christmas.
On a sort of 'eeny,meeny, miny, mo' basis - because they are all great books written either by authors I have read and enjoyed previously or if not are books which have received very interesting reviews - I chose Emma Donoghue's Room. I don't usually read the blurb on the back of a book jacket in case it gives away too much of the story but accidentally managed to read a comment on the front [!] this time:
Room is a book to read in one sitting. When it's over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lingers for daysThis is by Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife, a book that also makes one look at the world in a different way.
The first thing I would say is that, having in the past taught adults English Literature for the Workers' Educational Association [WEA] I know that there are lots of people who do not like novels written in the first person - I do like novels written in the first person narrative for the immediacy they give and Room is such a novel. This is the only way the story could possibly have been told.
A young child [Jack] is the narrator so the reader has to view the world through Jack's eyes and perceptions. There is a literary device called defamiliarisation* where something familiar is described in unfamiliar terms and the reader needs to 'work' to 'find' the familiar object. So in Room the reader has to look at and understand Jack's world through his descriptions. But it doesn't just stop there as Jack's language and vocabulary is may appear slightly odd at first.
If this all sounds off putting it is not meant to be. As Nifenegger implies, this book is difficult to put down. As the reader's understanding of Jack's world becomes clearer his world changes and again the reader has to understand both Jack's world and the world and customs of Everyman.
This book really is a book that one races to finish - but once finished it intrudes into 'everyday' life and there is a sense also of a sadness that Jack and Ma are left behind.
The picture above shows the paperback edition.
*A good example of defamiliarisation is shown below in Craig Raine's poem A Martian Sends A Postcard Home. This poem was a forerunner of the
1970/80s 'Martian Poetry' movement.
A Martian Sends A Postcard Home
Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings
and some are treasured for their markings -- [books]
they cause the eyes to melt [cry]
or the body to shriek without pain. [laugh]
I have never seen one fly, but
sometimes they perch on the hand.
Mist is when the sky is tired of flight
and rests its soft machine on ground:
then the world is dim and bookish
like engravings under tissue paper.
Rain is when the earth is television.
It has the property of making colours darker.
Model T is a room with the lock inside -- [car]
a key is turned to free the world
for movement, so quick there is a film [view from the windscreen]
to watch for anything missed.
But time is tied to the wrist [watch]
or kept in a box, ticking with impatience. [clock]
In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps, [baby]
that snores when you pick it up.
If the ghost cries, they carry it
to their lips and soothe it to sleep
with sounds. And yet they wake it up
deliberately, by tickling with a finger.
Only the young are allowed to suffer [bowel movements/
openly. Adults go to a punishment room lavatory]
with water but nothing to eat.
They lock the door and suffer the noises
alone. No one is exempt
and everyone's pain has a different smell.
At night when all the colours die,
they hide in pairs
and read about themselves -- dreams]
in colour, with their eyelids shut.