Tag Archives: Room

Friday Faceoff – It’s only words, and words are all I have…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer and is currently hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog. This week the theme is a cover featuring words, so I’ve gone with Room by Emma Donoghue.

 

This cover, produced by Little, Brown in September 2010, is very simple. Just the single word crayoned across the cover in different colours. But it is sufficiently different to make you stop and look twice – and when you know the protagonist is five years old, then it makes sense. I think it’s clever and eye-catching.

 

This edition was produced by Picador Classic in June 2015 as a Kindle edition, so I appreciate that this one needs to sing out as a thumbnail, but my problem with it is that the pale blue with the reflected sunlight gives a light, airy feel. And when you read Jack’s account – even the five year old is describing a cramped, cold and damp place without much light. However, that doesn’t prevent it being eye-catching and attractive.

 

Published in August 2010 by Picador, this cover is just boring. Especially as it ruins the simplicity by covering the blue backdrop with lots of blurb, clearly showing that not even the publishers felt the cover stood on its own merits. This is the one I really dislike.

 

Produced in 2012 by Picador 40, this black and white cover is very effective. I far prefer the image of the mines and stone walls surrounding the little shed to the pale blue of the other covers. I think the black and white is striking and would certainly grab my attention on the bookshelves. This one is my favourite.

 

This Picador offering, published in July 2010, has the small shed that features in the failed attempted above, but also has a blurred image of a small boy sitting on the floor. This addition makes all the difference, I think. There is something very poignant about it and turns the idea from something implied to the reality of imprisoning a child. Which is your favourite?

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Review of Room by Emma Donoghue

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This was short-listed for last year’s Man Booker prize and won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for 2010. I got hold of the book after hearing Donoghue’s interview for Radio 4’s Women’s Hour when she mentioned that she was inspired on hearing about five year old Felix in the Fritzl case.

roomJack is five and excited about his birthday. He lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures eleven feet by eleven feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows what he sees on screen isn’t truly real – there’s only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until one day, Ma admits there’s a world outside…

This account could so easily have lingered on the grimness and sheer horror of their existence – but seen through the filter of a small boy, whose young mother has determined to shelter her son as much as possible from the worst aspects of their imprisonment, it becomes something else. Jack’s narrative gives us a fascinating insight in the ability of humankind to survive in a highly difficult situation.

Of course, given that the first person POV is in the head of a small child, the success of this book hinges on how effectively Donoghue managed to convey these fraught circumstances through Jack’s account. I spend a fair amount of my time with a six year old – and her portrayal is spot on. The occasional grammatical mistakes are completely appropriate without being annoying – as was the use of words like ‘hilarious’, which indicates an intelligent, precocious child with unlimited access to a fully engaged adult. Exactly the set-up these two characters experience, in fact…

The other big pitfall Donoghue had to negotiate – and one that I was personally particularly looking out for – was lapsing into any kind of sentimentality. Given the difficult subject matter, it would have been unforgivable to have poured a layer of treacle over this story in the shape of a cute little boy. But while Jack is undeniably remarkable, he has his edges. With his temper tantrums and neediness in ways that most five year olds have outgrown, he is certainly a handful. I found some of the later episodes in the book unbearably poignant as he attempts to cope with all that is happening around him.

The other major character that we see through Jack’s eyes, is Ma. Beautifully written, she defines herself throughout their captivity as Jack’s protector. His survival and wellbeing is her highest priority and she’ll do anything – anything at all to achieve this. Even being polite and obliging to the man holding her, whom Jack calls Old Nick. Again, Donoghue’s characterisation is pitch perfect – right down to the fact that she is constantly struggling with toothache due to a poor diet and no access to a dentist or any form of healthcare during two pregnancies. Her inventiveness in educating and entertaining Jack in their cramped conditions is inspiring without being cloying. Jack also recounts the times when Ma is Gone – having retreated into a fit of depression when she cannot stir herself from the bed.
I finished the book sometime last week and have already completed two other books, since. Normally, that means the previous book is starting to fade. Not so this time. I have a hunch that I’ll still be musing over Jack and Ma from time to time in years to come. There are only a handful of books in my life that have had that impact. They are not the sole reason why I read – I cannot imagine an existence without books in it – but these Golden Reads certainly are life-enhancing, thought provoking gems.
It’s a wonderful start to 2011 to discover another jewel to add to this elite collection…
10/10