Room for a new view

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I’ve just read ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue (told you I’m a bit behind the times) and whilst it’s perhaps not the masterpiece one might be led to believe it’s incredibly refreshing in at least one respect. In an age when human misery has been more effectively tabloidized than ever and violent criminals enjoy a high and often lucrative ‘anti-hero’ profile Donoghue chooses to make the perpetrator a mostly anonymous shadow lurking in the background.

This works wonderfully on two levels: both foregrounding the importance of Jack and his mother over ‘Old Nick’ the kidnapper, whilst subtly presenting evil as a shadowy prescence in us all.

All too often in crime novels we see murderers, rapists, terrorists and bullies presented as clever, charming and intelligent beings with – usually – women and children as their hapless victims. This book shows that one can create a – mostly – gripping ‘thriller’ style narrative without glamourizing criminals; and tell the truth about crime whilst avoiding creaky gender stereotypes. Most importantly it refuses to cvictimize the victims. This is no ‘sufferporn’ potboiler.

Donoghue’s choice of a child as the narrator of her novel strips the prose of distasteful sentimentality or melodrama; serving to remind us of the gift of childhood. Writing a child’s perspective as an adult author is a notoriously difficult device to pull off but here it’s handled with applomb.

It does suffer from novel pitfall #1 – imperfect pacing. The ‘escape’ chapter is less than convincing and the tension levels decline sharply thereafter, leading to an end which seems arbitrary and contrived at the same time (as paradoxical as that sounds). But the balance between tackling serious subject matter and creating a highly readable story was handled near perfectly.

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