For years I used to live inside my head. I think it is an occupational hazard if you are within academia: you get used to silently arguing with yourse...moreFor years I used to live inside my head. I think it is an occupational hazard if you are within academia: you get used to silently arguing with yourself; to constantly question and explore your own thoughts. My head was (and is) the biggest place I have ever lived. I do not think of myself as an author, but I do think of myself as a writer. My words and thoughts are the most tangible things I possess. Words matter.
A brief synopsis: Room is the story of a young girl who is kidnapped by a loner and kept in a tiny room in his back-garden. She gives birth to a boy and raises him within the small room where they are at the mercy of the loner. The story echoes recent real-life crime cases - Josef Fritzl and his daughter, Natascha Kampusch, and Jaycee Lee Dugard - but is a work of fiction detailing life within confinement and subsequent events. Room has been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and has won many major literary awards.
The subject matter is not the problem. Although it would be easy to step into "misery literature" territory, Room sidesteps this neatly by leaving out most of the actual abuse. Indeed, Donoghue is not preoccupied by the grisly details (which may disappoint some readers, I am sure) but instead she wants to explore how human beings respond to extraordinary situations and to each other. She employs the five-year-old boy, Jack, as the narrator of the story - undoubtedly to defamiliarise to an already unreal scenario.
And Jack as the narrator is the problem with Room.
I can understand the lure of using Jack as the narrator as it avoids a lot of sticky situations for Donoghue as a writer (as discussed above) but Jack the five-year-old narrator is wildly inconsistent. He uses abstract concepts like "sarcasm" in context and says "hippopotami" with correct declension - but Donoghue also has him saying "I finded him" and "I knowed." So, the five year old kid can wield correct Greek grammar, but not use standard English strong verbs?
Russian literary critics used to differ between fabula and syuzhet: fabula is what happens; syuzhet is how it is told. Emma Donoghue has a firm grasp on the fabula part of her story, but Jack-as-narrator is a structural (syuzhet) problem that messes up Room in a very big way. It is not just that his language usage is woefully all-over-the-place but the pacing is off, any characterisation is by necessity very flat, and the internal logic has extremely big flaws.
I never like using the phrase "This is a page-turner" but TCC was a real page-turner for me. I read it over just a few days and I really, really enjoy...moreI never like using the phrase "This is a page-turner" but TCC was a real page-turner for me. I read it over just a few days and I really, really enjoyed it. Excellent summer reading - and I do hope there is a sequel. The characters are just too interesting to not encounter again. (less)
There is a very good book hidden within the Casual Vacancy but there is an odd unfocused sense to this novel that distracts. It reads a bit like like...moreThere is a very good book hidden within the Casual Vacancy but there is an odd unfocused sense to this novel that distracts. It reads a bit like like a peculiar West Country version of Short Cuts: lives intersects, mingle and break away. Structurally this conceit can work but TCV doesn't manage that.
There is much to admire, of course: JKR always writes well and with much indignation about social injustice. I also like the idea of Barry Fairbrother functioning as the lost centre around which the action revolves. I just wish it had been sharper, more focused, angrier and far less self-conscious.(less)
I do like Andrew Crumey - "Moebius Dick" was a hugely satisfying read, "Sputnik Caledonia" was great, and "Pfitz" was a really good read. Then I try "...moreI do like Andrew Crumey - "Moebius Dick" was a hugely satisfying read, "Sputnik Caledonia" was great, and "Pfitz" was a really good read. Then I try "Mr Mee" and I stumble into a road block. It's not that I didn't like this book because some great books are intensely unlikable. It is not because I struggled with the book because difficult reads are often rewarding. "Mr Mee" just wasn't very good.(less)
Whimsical. TNC reminded me of several books: "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" and "The Time Traveler's Wife" chiefly. It did not have anywhere as m...moreWhimsical. TNC reminded me of several books: "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" and "The Time Traveler's Wife" chiefly. It did not have anywhere as much depth as JS&MN - it was too whimsical, too frothy for that, but it had a more assured feel to it than TTW. So - somewhere in between the two.
I wish it had been darker, more menacing. More Angela Carter-esque (who certainly also served as inspiration). The last third floundered. Side characters deserved more time - and a certain reveal of a side character felt forced. The late introduction of another character didn't feel logical.
Overall, though: I enjoyed it but I will probably forget it in years to come. A sweet cream cake covered in a light dusting of sugar. It'd make a nice film. (less)
I'm torn. Cunningham writes so, so well and it is a joy to read his prose. On the other hand, this felt like a chamber piece that was dragged into the...moreI'm torn. Cunningham writes so, so well and it is a joy to read his prose. On the other hand, this felt like a chamber piece that was dragged into the wide open. By Nightfall could have been either condensed into a small chess game - perhaps just set in the Harris apartment over 24 hours - or it could have formed part a giant kaleidoscopic view of 21st century America. Instead Cunningham chose something in-between - a single story told by a single character over a short piece of time scattered throughout New York - and it the end result felt unsatisfactory. Cunningham continues to be one of my favourite contemporary writers, though. This one was just frustratingly, tantalisingly almost-quite-good-but-not.(less)
1) A couple of years ago Tom McCarthy’s novel C was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. McCarthy was rather good at sound-bites. He declared the nov...more1) A couple of years ago Tom McCarthy’s novel C was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. McCarthy was rather good at sound-bites. He declared the novel ‘the Finnegans Wake for the 21st Century’ or even a nouveau roman. This was utter nonsense, of course. I enjoyed the novel a great deal but at its core it was a rather conventional Bildungsroman cleverly disguised as an experimental anti-novel.
2) Narratologists are endlessly fascinated by ‘plot’ – one of the most famous books on the topic is even called Reading for the Plot. Whilst I did read Peter Brooks (who wrote the aforementioned tome) and Mikhail Bakhtin at university, I was never a great fan of narratology. I preferred poetry to prose and if I read fiction, I sought out works that somehow clashed with Brooks’ ideas of ‘narrative ends’ and ‘sequence and progression’.
I just finished reading Keith Ridgway’s Hawthorn and Child. It is difficult to call it conventional and as I was reading it, I could not help but think of McCarthy and Brooks.
Hawthorn and Child is a detective novel – that most conventional genre of fiction and one which narratologists love because the genre’s raison d’être is precisely narrative logic and satisfying progression of plot. Yet Ridgway’s novel is also not a detective novel. The recurring characters of Hawthorn and Child are police detectives and we follow them in their job, but we only catch glimpses of plot. A boy was shot. Who shot him? We are never told. The boy says a car shot him. There is a man, Mishazzo, with whom the police appears obsessed. What does he do? We do not know as we only glimpse him driving from one place to another.
And that is what you get with this book. You get stories of the detours, the gaps, the liminal spaces within conventional plot structures. Does that make it sound hard-going? It is not. You leap from one character to another – in a way, Hawthorn & Child can be understood as a short story collection too – and every section/story is exceedingly well-written with very distinct stylistic choices.
For me, the whole book came into its own with the segment “How To Have Fun With A Fat Man” which is so cleverly constructed and written that I read it several times just to savour what Ridgway did. Here he juxtaposes Hawthorn policing a riot with Hawthorn attending an orgy in a sauna. Bodies mingle, mix and become blurred – and so Ridgway’s prose mingles, mixes and becomes blurred. Paragraphs become bilocated in the narrative. It is a dream-like, yet visceral read.
Hawthorn & Child is an extraordinary read. I cannot remember the last time I have been this excited about a book and I don’t think my words do it justice. Word of mouth has been very strong – in fact I first read about it on John Self’s book blog – and I think that is how the book will find its audience. I hope the audience will be a large one. It deserves to be read (and read and read).(less)
How very disappointing. "Emabassytown" was one of the best books I've read recently. "King Rat", however, is a debut novel and one where Mieville is s...moreHow very disappointing. "Emabassytown" was one of the best books I've read recently. "King Rat", however, is a debut novel and one where Mieville is still finding his voice. It reads like a subpar Gaiman novel - and I don't even like Neil Gaiman. I think "King Rat" is for Mieville fans only.(less)
So, this debate has been going on for years: why does the Man Booker not recognise Speculative Fiction when some of the most interesting literature be...moreSo, this debate has been going on for years: why does the Man Booker not recognise Speculative Fiction when some of the most interesting literature being written is, in fact, Speculative Fiction? Well, then this book pops up on the longlist and we should all rejoice, yes? Unfortunately not. Roger's book is really rather awful: uneven in tone, disjointed in conception and feeling very, very derivative.
A definite miss for me. Go read Atwood's dystopian novels instead.(less)