My fellow-blogger Tony over at Tony’s Book World has just ‘burst the bubble’ on Stoner by John Edward Williams and I thought as I pondered my reaction to the Booker longlisted and much-hyped Room that I too would be ‘bursting a bubble’. The Guardian was impressed, and some of my bookish friends had urged me to read it, but it turns out that this book is a divisive choice for the Booker longlist and I am not alone in my disappointment at all.
I had some niggling doubts from the start. The blurbers were John Boyne, Anita Niffenegger, and Anita Shreve, (all authors I avoid) and now that I’ve read it I’m surprised they didn’t bring Jodi Piccoult in as well. On the other hand, Michael Cunningham admired it, and he’s the author of The Hours, which I thought a very fine book indeed.
Anyway, the blurb advises that it is best to read it in a single sitting, and so I did, four hours of my Sunday morning. And I did not care for it at all, and for much the same reasons as Kevin from Canada and John Self at Asylum.
For those who have escaped the hype, Room is the story of a woman abducted and kept imprisoned in a secure room where her child is born. She raises him, as best she can, filling their days with games and songs and routines. The story is told entirely from the five-year-old Jack’s point-of-view so what happens is filtered by a child’s understanding, and by his lack of experience about what is normal. It was reminiscent of One Foot Wrong by Sophie Laguna (see my thoughts about that one) and it turns out that Donoghue specialises in writing the kind of book that arouses distaste. (See the Irish Publishing News).
I found the child narrator tedious and annoying, I thought the plot spectacularly unconvincing, and the ending contrived. Great slabs of text I found boring (and scampered through them without apparent loss).
For me, a book has failed if I find myself ‘outside the story’ trying to write the plot for the author, and that’s what happened. Ok, victim and kid in secure shed somewhere, what comes next? How is the author going to resolve this?
But more than anything it felt like an unedifying experience to be reading it. Voyeuristic, distasteful, exploiting a celebrity victim. Genre fiction at its worst. Don’t bother.
James Wood at the LRB expresses the same reservations, much more eloquently.
Author: Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Picador 2010
Source: Personal library, purchased from Top Titles Brighton $32.99.