Sunday, 10 April 2016

Room by Emma Donoghue book review

The unbelievably tragic and cruel situation of a young woman imprisoned to be used as a sex slave is the theme of this amazingly uplifting and life affirming novel. Kidnapped as a teenager, she is repeatedly raped by her captor and her son Jack is the result of this liaison. The narrative commences in "room" as Jack celebrates his fifth birthday.
At the heart of the book is the strength of the mother child relationship. The story is narrated by Jack who knows no other life than "room".  
The book reveals a completely private world. Every family has its own language of codes and in-jokes, and Donoghue captures this very well. Ma has created characters out of all aspects of their twelve foot square room – Wardrobe, Rug, Plant, Meltedy Spoon. 
They have a TV and Jack loves "Dora the Explorer", but Ma limits the time they are allowed to watch it for fear of turning their brains to mush. They do "phys ed" every morning, keep to strict mealtimes, make up poems, sing Lady Gaga and Kylie, and most importantly, Ma has a seemingly endless supply of stories.
For five years Ma makes her sole purpose in life to be giving Jack as normal an upbringing as possible in this abnormal situation. After his fifth birthday she devises a bold escape plan that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realise is just how unprepared she is for the outside world when the plan works. It came as a shock to me when following their escape they are described on the television news in the following sentence: “The despot’s victims have an eerie pallor and appear to be in a borderline catatonic state,” the reporter says, while Jack is a “malnourished boy, unable to walk”. 
The story of their life once "outside" narrates Jack's attempt to understand the world and take in the many new facts that surround him. The sudden and dramatic expansion of his experience of reality and the fear this creates is evoked brilliantly.
I loved the book. It was harrowing in parts but also uplifting and you could not fail to be impressed by the eternal optimism of the five year old that is perfectly captured in this story.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Boo by Neil Smith - a book review

Boo or Oliver is a 13 year old bullied outcast, who considers himself a science geek but has characteristics that seem to indicate he is on the autistic spectrum. One day he is standing by his school locker and then he wakes up in heaven - a special part of the afterlife called the town where only 13 year old Americans go. He immediately assumes the hole in his heart has caused his demise but he soon learns that he was shot and then discovers another boy, Johnny,  who arrived at the same time after dying in the same shooting incident. 
Thus the scene is set for Boo discovering his place in this new community and making friends who accompany him on a journey to discover what happened. They are anxious to see if their killer is there in heaven with them. Their search for "gunboy" involves Boo struggling to find himself and to get over his fear of being touched and touching other people. He also has to learn to interact with those in his own age group.
The book is written from the viewpoint of Boo who is writing a long letter to his parents to explain where he now is and what has happened to him. 
It isn't a religious book in any way - the boss of heaven is referred to throughout as Zig - and the depiction of the afterlife doesn't fit in with the theology of any religion I have ever studied! But as a literary device to explore themes such as forgiveness it works well. It is a book about the consequences of bullying and the cruelty of teenagers as well as the love and loyalty that they can show. The writing is full of wit and invention and the story leads to a ending with a twist that was perhaps a little contrived but I found satisfying none the less. 
I saw parallels to "The lord of the flies" in the plot but "Boo" is a very different book. I enjoyed this wistful and touching novel and recommend it.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Iona - film review

I love Iona. I have spent many happy weeks there, enjoying the ambience of the ancient abbey, the beautiful sandy beaches and the amazing turquoise sea. It is a special place. I was excited to see the new Scottish film that was named after the island, had a woman called Iona as the central character and was filmed on location on the island.
What a great disappointment. The landscapes were as stunning as ever and I recognised the rocks and bays however....
The plot was poor, the acting wooden in parts and the arty photography dwelt overbearingly long over each scene. The story supposedly portrayed Christian people on the Christian island but it was a superficial parody of faith. And as for reality - I've never seen a poly tunnel strawberry farm on Iona and why didn't they call the air ambulance when one of the main characters collapsed! I can't imaging a situation where folks just stand around the moaning body and wait passively for death!
There was hardly any dialogue - long silent meals with the sound of scraping of forks and why did they eat so many eggs!  Ninety minutes of melancholic, taciturn brooding. Perhaps I should have noticed the strapline of 'Home is where the hurt is' and taken note.  This is a film I definitely don't want to see again.