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Pickle Me This

November 17, 2010

More thoughts on Emma Donoghue's Room

I liked Emma Donoghue’s Room when I read it last month, though I valued it less as literature than as a plot-driven novel constructed from an amazingly rendered point of view. Though Jack as narrator was key to the book’s stunning spell, his limited perspective also kept the book from achieving multiple dimensions. I said as much in my review, but I’ve come up with a few things to say since. And I will say them now in point form, because a certain small child kept me up most of last night and I am really, really tired:

  • The Britishisms– did anybody notice these? I know Donoghue is Irish, so maybe it’s Irishisms I mean, but I know them from Britain. Throughout the text, I’d come across them and wonder where these people were supposed to live, their figures of speech so various. “Dead spit” I thought was a Jackism for “spitting image”, because I’d never heard of the former, until I came across it in another novel recently. And there are other examples of ways that Americans don’t talk– I wonder why an editor never picked up on this?
  • I wanted to see what a man would think of this book, and I had a feeling that the gripping elements of the plot would pique my husband’s interest, so when I finished the book, I handed it to him and told him to give it a read. Do note that he knew nothing about the book, and he never saw its dust jacket (which was put away for safe keeping, of course). He finished the book and said that the first half of the book was amazing, the suspense was killer. Where were they? Had their been a nuclear holocaust or an environmental disaster? Was Old Nick a protector from a now unsafe world, and she was paying him with sex for the shelter? He had no idea what was going on. Which is so interesting to me, who went into the book knowing the entire plot beforehand thanks to publicity, friends’ reports, and ye old dust jacket. I wonder which of us got Room more the way it was intended to be?
  • I read James Wood’s review in The London Review of Books, and he highlighted something I’d never considered: “Does anyone really imagine that Jack’s inner life, with his cracks about Pizza Houses and horse stables and high-fives, is anything like five-year-old Felix Fritzl’s? The real victim’s imaginings and anxieties must have been abysmal, in the original sense (unimaginable, bottomless), and the novel’s sure-footed appropriation of this unknowability seems offensive precisely in its sure-footedness.” I don’t know if I’m offended, but I’d never considered how utterly unrealistic the story is, how much it is unabashedly a fairy tale. Because so many elements of the story are startlingly realized (the maternal bond in particular), we forget that such a bond being fostered in that situation would be tremendously unlikely. Donoghue has taken a very particular story to tell us something very general, but I think the lack of particularities may be a serious weakness.

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