Monthly Archives: June 2011

Room, by Emma Donoghue

via tower.com

Room, by Emma Donoghue (Little, Brown and Co., 2010), was like nothing I’ve ever read before. Like The Book Thief, Room is narrated in an unusual way. The story is told through the eyes of 5-year-old Jack, a little boy who’s spent his whole life in an 11’x11′ room with his Ma. Hearing the story of a young woman’s kidnapping and confinement through the filter of a 5-year-old gives the story a new depth and constantly throws you into a new, unusual perspective.

If you’ve spent much time talking to 5 year olds, you’ll know that they haven’t quite mastered the nuances of our tricky English language. Those sneaky pronouns, irregular past tense verbs and complicated sentence structures get in the way when Jack tells the story, but, like reading in a foreign language, once you get used to the patterns and “Jack-speak”, the book’s narrative flows much more smoothly, allowing  you to get swept into the story.

Jack and Ma (we never do learn her “other two names”, as Jack deems them unnecessary because Ma already has a name: Ma) have a daily routine in Room. (Jack personifies a lot of inanimate objects, and considers them his friends) Jack’s whole world is in Room, his friends are the five picture books he can read by himself, Bed, Duvet, Wardrobe, Rug, Plant, Egg-snake under the bed, and his TV friend Dora. When Jack begins to outgrow the confines of Room, Ma breaks down, tells him the story of her kidnapping and “unlies” the truth of Outside. They plan a scary, brave (“scrave”) escape and I don’t feel like it’s a spoiler if I tell you that they are successful because…

The second half of the book focuses on Ma and Jack adjusting to life in Outside. We meet Jack’s grandparents and, through Jack’s very real child’s perspective, get a glimpse of how the fringe characters had adjusted to Ma’s disappearance.

While the events in this story are horrifying to think about: kidnapping, repeated rape, a child growing up in a tiny, 11’x11′ space, they are told with a contrasting attitude of normalcy and a perspective that will keep you turning pages. Jack’s voice and point of view keep the story light and straightforward. Any “oh, how awful it must’ve been” voices are all on the periphery, mostly from the outside world after the big escape.

What really stood out to me in this story is the bond between Jack and Ma, the courage and creativity she used to create as normal of a life as was possible for her little boy in their confined space, and the fierce protectiveness Jack and Ma feel toward each other. Rather than being a depressing Debbie Downer, Room was full of hope and life.

Bottom line: If you are looking for a unique, perspective-changing, thought-provoking book, I definitely recommend Room. If you’re still not sure about it, check out this great review by The Guardian’s Nicola Barr. Or this interview with author Emma Donoghue: 


The Meowmorphosis, by Franz Kafka and Coleridge Cook

via quirkbooks.com

Before I picked up The Meowmorphosis (Quirk Books, 2011), the newest mash-up from Quirk Books, I wanted to get to know Kafka a little better. He’d been on my “to-read-someday” list just about forever, so I dove straight into The Metamorphosis. The story—too short to be a novella, too long to be a short story—starts out well enough, with poor Gregor Samsa waking up one rainy day to find he’d turned into a giant beetle during a night of fitful dreams. After that, the story goes downhill. Slowly. With a little more talking and a lot less action. Kafka also relies heavily on long, unending, rambling sentences. For example:

“Hardly had his sister noticed the changed aspect of his room that evening than she rushed in high dudgeon into the living room and, despite the imploringly raised hands of her mother, burst into a storm of weeping, while her parents—her father had of course been startled out of his chair—looked on at first in helpless amazement; then they too began to go into action; the father reproached the mother on his right for not having left the cleaning of Gregor’s room to his sister; shrieked at the sister on his left that never again was she to be allowed to clean gregor’s room; while the mother tried to pull the father into his bedroom, since he was beyond himself with agitation; the sister, shaken with sobs, then beat upon the table with her small fists; and Gregor hissed loudly with rage because not one of them thought of shutting the door to spare him such a spectacle and so much noise.” 

And that was one of the exciting scenes… So finally having finished the entire Metamorphosis, I picked up The Meowmorphosis with some trepidation. I’d been impressed with how closely Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (also a Quirk book) had stuck to Jane Austen’s style, and I had no reason to think Meowmorphosis would be any different.

I am happy to report that Meowmorphosis is about a million times more adorable than the original, and I had a much easier time sympathizing with the thoughts and emotions of a giant kitty than I did a giant insect. It is still the same basic plot: unexplainable change after a night of fitful dreams, alienation and resentment from his family, and the same final conclusion, which I won’t give away if you haven’t read Kafka. To make Meowmorphosis novel length, Coleridge Cook took the liberty to add an escape scene where Gregor actually roams the streets of Prague and comes into contact with some very long-winded kitties indeed. (One paragraph carries on for five entire pages!)

Cook plucked characters from other Kafka works and kitty-fied them, weaving them into the streets of Prague. Josef K., the protagonist of The Trial, morphs into the aforementioned longwinded tabby and, ironically, arrests Gregor and holds him on trial for a crime that we never fully understand. Kafka’s A Little Woman begins with a description of a woman who is “quite ill-pleased” with the narrator; Cook crafts the excerpt into a description of Gregor’s sister upon his return home. Even Gregor’s dream, the night of his meowmorphosis, is part of another Kafka short story, Investigations of a Dog.

Bottom line: Much as I expected, The Meowmorphosis stuck fast to Kafka’s own literary style and favorite themes. This patchwork of Kafka was interesting on the grounds of its unusual nature and much more fun to struggle through than the original, but I have a feeling that if I’d been better-versed in Kafka, I would have enjoyed it much more.

Check out the trailer for The Meowmorphosis: