Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body Joseph Addison, English Essayist, Poet, Dramatist and Statesman. 1672 - 1719

'Clarice's Book Page' is the 'reading room' of the 'Elizannie' page at:

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Room by Emma Donoghue

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 days
This 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.

Craig Raine


  1. Ellen could not post this comment so I have done it for her. Ellen has also written a really interesting blog on the book but please don't read it unless you too have read the book as it contains many spoilers!

    Dear Elizannie,

    I wrote about _Room_ too:

    I suggest it's a mu...lti-rape abduction story, a dark gothic which is disguised or kept from its full horror from the reader by having a young child as narrator. The problem with the book is the young child narrator after a while is too coy, or cloying and it becomes obvious she has to let the child tell things he couldn't possibly just to let the story get told.


  2. Spoiler alert: Some plot details in this comment!

    Thank you for your comments Ellen. What is always interesting is the way that two different people read a book in different ways -and as always what annoys one pleases another. The five year old boy did not annoy me nearly as much as he did you, possibly because he reminded me in a lot of ways of one of my grandsons who is also five. This morning he looked out of the window and said 'it must be cold out there, the trees are shivering' - it was windy!
    Yet the child narrator does keep the horror from the reader at first but I would suggest that very fact makes it more horrific as the story proceeds and the reader realises what is happening. And it is the child narrator who makes the device of defamiliarisation possible. The child perhaps telling too much is symptomatic of a problem often occurring in first person narration, that of how to get across what could be called 'too much knowledge'!
    I hadn't thought of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' as a comparison, I should have done because to a lesser extent defamiliarisation is there too especially with the events and incidents surrounding Boo Radley. The book that had occurred to me as a comparison was Roddy Doyles 'Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha', possibly due to the subject matter.
    The real life events that have been revealed in the past few years, in the States and Austria obviously had influences on these books. If we had not heard about them would we have dismissed the book as too unreal?

  3. Room is simply the best book I have read in some time. If you like good fiction--not the mass-market trype that so often passes for a "good book"--you simply must read this. Read it. Buy it. It is mesmerizing and frightening and uplifting and breathtaking. Read this book. Now. Go ahead, order it right now.

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