Book Review: Room

Jack is five. He lives in a single, locked room with his Ma.

Room is a fascinating book by Emma Donoghue.

‘Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra.’

It is told from the perspective of Jack, a young boy who has had no experience of the outside world. All Jack has ever known is Room; it is the place he was born and the place he has grown up. To Ma however, Room is captivity.

As the book is told from Jack’s perspective, the childlike narration is instantly apparent. For example, everything is personified and viewed through the lens of a five-year-old’s imagination such as Room, Bed and Wardrobe. Some of the sentences purposefully lack complete grammatical sense, as Jack struggles to understand certain words, figures of speech, and abstract concepts. This brilliantly reflects not only children’s use of language, but how specifically a child with stunted development uses language.

I was at first worried this style would make it difficult to follow the plot, but I was quickly proved wrong – I struggled to put Room down and read it in just a few days.

“One of the most profoundly affecting books I’ve read in a long time” 

John Boyne, Author of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

Reading from Jack’s perspective was authentic and enriching. The switch between Jack’s reported speech and his private thoughts implicitly revealed information about how Jack and Ma came to be in Room. For example, Jack believes that while Ma was in Room, he was sent to her from Heaven, while the reader can quickly work out the truth of what happened. This implicit way of reporting certain events mirrors how parents at times avoid telling their children upsetting news, or the whole truth, to try and protect them.

My Photo [Room]
Room was adapted into a film in 2015, directed by Lenny Abrahamson and starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Photograph via letterboxd.com

Jack is such a creative individual; he loves reading, hearing, and telling stories that teach him not only about Room, but a semblance of what the outside world is like. Ma has told him about real people, make-believe people, real things and make-believe things in an attempt to help Jack understand. However, this creativity is underlined with sadness; working out what’s real and what isn’t becomes overwhelming and confusing when Jack learns the truth. He is forced to relearn things, as well as learn brand new things because it is apparent the reality of the world clashes with the reality of Room.

‘“You know how Alice wasn’t always in wonderland?”

[…] 

“Well, I’m like Alice,” says Ma.

[…] 

Why’s she pretending like this, is it a game I don’t know?’

Jack’s emotions and thoughts are always so clear and raw, and so watching the deterioration and sadness of his mother’s mental health through his eyes – who has been holding herself together in Room for so long for the sake of him – was incredibly sad.

Room was a tense, gripping and emotional read. Despite having seen the film, and knowing the outline of the plot, I was constantly kept on edge by Donoghue’s writing and couldn’t wait to read what happened next.

I strongly recommend Room; I’ve never read a book like it before, and I doubt anything else I ever read will come close.

 – Judith

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Book Review: Sons and Lovers

Sons and Lovers is a story by D.H. Lawrence which ‘concerns childhood and adolescence and all that go with them, including fear, shame, self‑consciousness, emotional hypersensitivity, sexual awakening’ (Morrison, 2013).

The book focuses upon Mrs Morel, and her youngest son Paul, as well as the relationships he has with two different women in the town: Miriam and Clara. Paul and his mother have an intensely close relationship, and the two behave as lovers – hence the title – which then has an impact on the way Paul sees the world and forms relationships with others.

Sons and Lovers has Lawrence’s clear imprint upon it; the use of Nottinghamshire dialect, characters from a working-class background, the setting of a mining town, and touching on themes such as class, gender, and sexuality.

Yet despite Lawrence’s clear coverage of Paul’s Oedipus Complex*, I found Sons and Lovers less sexually explicit than Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which was a relief!

*Oedipus Complex: A theory that the unconscious mind desires sexual relations with the parent of the opposite sex (e.g. sons being sexually attracted to their mothers)

Another difference between Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Sons and Lovers is that in Sons and Lovers, the novel follows the daily life of Mrs Morel and her family over a period of time and, well, that’s about it. As Paul flitted between Miriam, Clara, and Mrs Morel, I never got the impression that the action was building to anything. Thus, when the book ended, it just ended.

Furthermore, for a book which frequently refers to the gender inequalities between men and women, the portrayal of women in Sons and Lovers was not a positive one. It’s clear Paul uses his relationships with Miriam and Clara to satisfy his physical needs and not much else.  Miriam regularly speaks of her desire not to be held back in life because she is a woman, yet spends her entire time moping around the non-committal Paul, only ever seeing her future in relation to his. We are told Clara is a suffragist, yet scenes of Clara expressing her feminist beliefs are omitted, and instead we are provided more details of Clara’s clinging to Paul.

I can understand why Sons and Lovers has received high praise from readers and critics alike; Lawrence’s writing is good, and his descriptions are detailed and lifelike. The theme of incestuous love between mother and son is certainly one most writers would steer well clear of, but Lawrence tackles it in an interesting way.

Morrison writes that ‘For those new to his [that is, Lawrence’s] work, Sons and Lovers is the place to start.’ (The Guardian, 2013).

Whilst I disagree with this, I can’t deny that I enjoy Lawrence’s writing, and there is no doubt in my mind that I will read more of his novels in future.

 

– Judith

Book Review: Jude The Obscure

Jude The Obscure is a Bildungsroman (coming of age) story following the life of Jude who, when we are first introduced, aspires to study at Christminster and become an academic or clergyman. However, various relationships and social dramas interrupt this life goal until it gradually withers away.

I really liked Hardy’s style of writing and this was an easy and enjoyable book to read. I thought the issues covered, such as religion, marriage, divorce and courting were discussed in a very modern way, which pleasantly surprised me, given the fact it was written more than 100 years ago.

I also liked the way the book was split into 6, roughly equal parts: At Marygreen [1], At Christminster [2], At Melchester [3], At Shaston [4], At Aldbrickham and Elsewhere [5], At Christminster Again [6]. This helped the narrative flow by keeping each section in just one setting, and also made it easier to log my progress on Goodreads!

The part which gripped me most was At Christminster Again [6] because of the tense and emotional scene with Little Father Time and the children. The scene was predictable, but in a good way. The foreshadowing was well done, so I knew what would happen, and when it did, I was simultaneously satisfied and heart-broken! I am wary of saying much more as I like to keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible.

I also noticed some narrative similarities between Jude The Obscure and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens; the beginnings are quite similar. A young boy raised by his aunt grows up to learn about the world and develops feelings for a local girl. However, once Jude reached manhood, the plot completely changed, and sadly this is where the similarities between the two novels ended.

Another slight disappointment for me was that I didn’t understand why the book is called Jude The Obscure. To me, this is such a shame because usually with older books, it’s easier to work out. I just like to be able to work out myself why the book has been given its title.

Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this Hardy novel and it may be my favourite!

– Judith