Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

AUTHOR: Emma Donoghue
PUBLISHER: Picador [Macmillan]
PRICE: £8.99
ISBN: 9780330519021
PERSONAL SOURCE: Borrowed from my mum

Jack is five. He lives in a locked room with his Ma. – from the back of the book

Okay. Ooooookay. This book. Wow. (Just so you know… that wasn’t a particularly good “wow”)

I’m just going to start by saying that this book and I just didn’t get on. I mean, I thought/hoped that we would but, alas, it was not to be and… splat. Basically. And I’m going to start with the negatives and move onto the positives so if you really like this book skip the next couple of paragraphs.

To start with, I just plainly didn’t like it. It’s the type of thing that if it were a film, I would’ve turned the TV off, or I would’ve changed the subject if it were a conversation. I spent most of the book reading with a frowny face (I swear if books are the reason I’ve started to get crinkle lines in my forehead I’ll be annoyed). I didn’t like any of the characters except for about three (there’s quite a big cast, just so ya know) and I didn’t like Jack, the protagonist. By the end of the novel, he was so tedious and I get that’s what it’s like for a 5 year old all of the time, but come on. A change of POV would have been a delicious at this point (but, I guess that adds to the overall affect of the novel). And I understand that Jack has been through an awful lot, but man I wanted to slap him. And I’m against hitting children as a punishment. Just… I really felt for some of the characters who had to look after him, and I felt that their anger – which, by the way, wasn’t directed at him – was written well and accurately. Because uuuugh he really annoyed me.

The start of the book was the best bit, for me. Tension-packed and really interesting (and before I got annoyed at Jack and “Ma”), I did actually like reading it. And then it just seem to get like a really pot-hole filled road, okay, I didn’t like the middle. The ending kind of picked up but wasn’t as good as the beginning.

The actual concept of the book was intriguing and I did think it was a good idea (shame about the protagonist who I wanted to strangle by the end of it sorry Jack but oh my days I couldn’t have read any more). Donoghue clearly did her research and it was written very well. If you were wondering why I gave it three stars instead of two when I apparently distasted it, that’s because the writing was so great and more-ish. Sure, the protagonist was getting on my nerves, BUT it was written in such a way that I could literally not put it down. I think that that’s a gift of a great writer – the book doesn’t have to be to the reader’s liking particularly, but they can’t put it down because it just grips you.

I came into this book with high hopes and, unfortunately, personally they were not met. Obviously that doesn’t mean they won’t be met for you, but I just didn’t like it and I don’t think I’ll read it again: it often left me feeling kind of deflated after a reading session. However, I can see why it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize (I still can’t get over how gripping it was) and I might try and read some of Donoghue’s other books in the future (that is, if my TBR pile severely diminishes. Seriously, if it topples over it’ll probably squish me flat and even with my pudge it’ll probably succeed).

Literary vs. Genre Fiction

There’s an ongoing argument between writers. You may have heard of it. On one side, with have the literaryists, the ones who read about real-life and thought-provoking-ness. On the other, you have the genreists, the ones who want a bit of action and adventure in their books.

For writers, though, there is a very thin line between literary and genre fiction. So, which is which?

Literary fiction

  • Tends to be thought-provoking
  • Tends to be real-life/set in this universe
  • Emotional
  • Can be about better understanding the world
  • Can be told in weird ways (eg just description, speech etc)
  • EXAMPLES: The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, Life of Pi…

Genre fiction 

  • Fits into one of the genres (link to a very extensive list which probably has every single genre ever), for example action, western, romance etc.
  • Aimed at readers looking for an entertaining read
  • Normally deals with situations you won’t find it real life
  • Can be alternative universes, such as the Sherlock universe, Lord of the Rings universe, or Game of Thrones universe.
  • Has more structure (ie plot points)
  • EXAMPLES: Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter…

So, your stuff could fit into one of these categories. But then you have the ones that overlap – such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which could be considered a literary romance, so it fits into both.

Some also think that literary fiction is boring compared to genre fiction.

Personally, I love Gatsby and Harry Potter, so I can’t really judge.

Now we get back to the argument. Many literary authors say that ‘their’ genre is better. They’ve go a lot of evidence to back it up – books such as The Fault in Our Stars being made into films, and works such as Gatsby standing the test of time. But is it really?

Some people also say that literary fiction is a genre in itself…so wouldn’t that make everything genre fiction?

Now that you know what the difference is (or you’ve had your memory topped up if you knew before!) what is your opinion on literary and genre fiction?