Holiday reading: Room by Emma Donoghue

Hmn, my huge plans for a week of holiday reading and writing were scuppered by a lovely pool, hot sun and an over attentive barman. I mean that in the ‘providing lots of drinks way’ not in any other sort of way, y’understand? So, most of the time when I should have been devouring the many, many novels I took with me, I was actually devouring food to soak up the alcohol of the day before, or beginning the next night of drinking around 2 in the afternoon…

I managed to read Room by Emma Donoghue though. This book had in turn been recommended (indeed on Amazon, it is highly rated) and mildly disliked by a number of my friends so I was prepared for a potential disappointment.

I read the book on my flight to Zakynthos and finished off the final few chapters on the first day of my holiday. Speed reading is not necessarily a good thing. In this case, particularly, it was a case of I’ve started so I’ll finish, but please let it end quickly.

(My friend K had actually admitted to having skipped a good chunk of the book as she’d got bored of the tale of life in the room.)

So, what’s wrong with it exactly?

**(er I guess this contains spoilers so don’t read it if you plan to read Room – though obviously I’d suggest you read this and not Room…)**

It’s basically the story of 5-year-old Jack and his ‘ma’ who are kept prisoner in a room by a man. It transpires that his mother was kidnapped and that Jack is the result of the constant sexual abuse and rape she suffered. Jack has never left the room.

With its reference point in real life accounts of abduction and imprisonment from the last few years, it is an interesting investigation of what the day to day horror of living with this might be. Yet while Room has at its heart a harrowing reality, the delivery and plot leaves a lot to be desired.

It’s written from the point of view of Jack, who as a 5-year-old has limited vocabulary. The use of names for things in Room like Wardrobe, Rug, Meltedy Spoon (with capitalisation) was jarring and interrupted the flow of the prose. It just didn’t ring true to me that in one sentence Jack could be stringing together a coherent description and understanding of his world, yet in the next be speaking in short, sharp disjointed phrases.

His appeal as a narrator was limited, and indeed, limiting: the reader gets no real sense of any emotion. His descriptions of his Ma made her a strange and quite flat character: things she does are difficult to empathise with, she often comes across as selfish and quite brazen with her son’s safety which I’m sure should not have been the intention. Having a bad day? She ignores him. Planning the great escape? Put him in the hands of the abductor, he’ll be fine. I get that she’s full of desperation at this point, but the whole plot surrounding the escape plan was lunacy. Lacking suspense and highly unbelievable: things just happened. Jack’s blank, simplistic narration did nothing in what should have been a terrifying, heart-in-mouth moment. I am sure that had the mother been given a voice the emotion of the novel would have been richer and stronger.

Once away from the room, the author’s investigation of the aftermath was flat. Jack’s introduction into a new world could have been magical and highly imagined, but was again quite bland and uninteresting. Donoghue seems to have tied herself in knots over Jack’s delivery, presenting an unreliable narrator with limited linguistic and story telling ability.

In the end the plot sort of petered out, almost as if the author was saying ‘well they’re out now, what do you care?’ And care I didn’t. Disappointing.

5 ways I use lists

I love lists.

Here are 5 ways in which lists help me plan, manage and be a little a bit weird in my day to day life.

1. Adding stuff that’s already complete

I often add things to lists after I’ve already done them, just so I can cross them off immediately and feel great.

2. Paper size differs depending on the list

It’s not even always about how much there is to write down. I rarely go over A5 for the majority of planning type lists. However, the weekly food shop list must be on A6. Too big and there’s too much white space. Smaller than this and I can’t sub-divide by shop or area. The food shop list is largely the same every week: I could probably do it from memory, but I never have. If I don’t have the list, I will forget something.

3. The list has to be formatted as a list

I was on a course recently where they introduced mind mapping. To me, this seems like a glorified flow chart with no beginning or end. I found them impossible when writing a ‘to do’ list, but marginally helpful when trying to think more creatively about building characters for a short story. Here’s a nice little article about them and illustration, should you wish to find out more.

4. I have lists saved electronically

I am mocked for my relentless holiday going. And for ages part of the ‘going on holiday’ thing was writing the list. What toiletries do I need? What books? Do I need two or three suncreams? After a while I got a bit sick of writing this all out long hand. I’d always miss something. Passport – d’oh! This would mess up my otherwise neatly written plan and I’d sometimes (not always) rewrite that bit again. So now I have a master list – all the toiletries I might need, all the iterations of books/magazines depending on length of trip, location, time of year saved on my laptop. Each time a holiday comes around, I take the master list and adapt it 🙂

5. Nothing would happen if I didn’t list

I have a pretty full calendar: holidays, events, theatre as well as mundane stuff like food shopping, chores and house planning. If you took away my ability to list, my life would be one long procrasination exercise. Some might say that my listing is a form of procrastination, take what’s on my current weekly ‘to do’ list:

  • Write guest blog for Thrifty Gal
  • Print and adapt holiday list for Zakynthos
  • Write blog entries for this blog
  • Write list for Saturday (Hair cut, picnic food for Leazes park)
  • Plan Sunday (metro/bus times….)

Best get to it!

 * Listography is a notebook that Thrifty Gal gave me while in London a few months ago – it’s nothing like hairography as featured on Glee.

Cheap flights to Crete

Obviously I need to be looking out for even more holidays. My June trip to Greece, a September jaunt to Nice or Krakow (I said or not and) and the annual trip to New York are clearly not enough.
Hey a £141 trip to Crete is cheap. Oh, they sold out between me reading the introduction and the article.