Archive for the 'Contemporary' Category

Book Review: About Grace by Anthony Doerr

About Grace, by Anthony Doerr, is the story of David Winkler, a scientist and a man with an unusual gift; prophetic dreams. The story starts out as Winkler (as he is consistently referred to in the book) flies to Alaska to determine the fate of his daughter, Grace. Twenty-five years earlier, having dreamt that Grace died in a flood while his was trying to rescue her, he abandoned his wife and infant daughter, fleeing to a remote Caribbean Island in an attempt to prevent the dream from coming true. What ensues is the story of his life as he seeks to come to terms with his actions, never quite certain whether they saved his daughter’s life or not.

Doerr’s prose is languid and evocative. The pace is leisurely and contemplative and the detail almost overwhelming at times. There are beautiful descriptions and explanations of snowflakes, shells, stars and insect habitation, as well as the settings of Alaska, Ohio and the Caribbean that place the reader firmly in Winkler’s world. However I did not find David Winkler to be a likeable character. His angst and indecision throughout the book, his unwillingness to help himself, combined with his social ineptness and his unerring ability to do the wrong thing was frustrating, and I did not feel myself empathetic towards him. While the story comes around in an arc to a satisfying conclusion, I was left feeling that Winkler’s was a life wasted, not by circumstance, although that was the inciting incident, but by his own character.

Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

Room, by Emma Donoghue, is unusual, moving, and somewhat haunting. Told from the perspective of Jack, a 5 year-old boy, whose world is comprised of a single room, the soundproofed, reinforced garden shed in which his mother has been held captive since the age of 19. Having been told that Room, as he calls it, is the entirety of the real world, that he and his mother and ‘Old Nick’ are the only real humans, and that everything outside of Room is outer space, when circumstances force his mother to tell him the truth about the world, he greets it with anger and disbelief. Gradually, however, he comes to accept this unlikely truth, as he sees it, and agrees to a plan to help the both of them escape.

When I heard about this book, I immediately wanted to read it. And I wanted to like it. I expected to love it. I must say, however, that I found it hard to get into and almost gave up on it.

Jack’s voice, as a 5 year-old, was not convincing to me. Donoghue did a great job of keeping Jack’s perspective, of viewing things from the eyes of a boy who knew nothing of the world, who had never had to walk on an uneven surface, who had never worn shoes, who had never seen a dog or a tree, had never spoken to anyone other than his mother, who had never felt rain on his face or sunlight on his skin. However I found the language Jack used hard to read. A real mix of immature and unusual grammar, use of proper nouns for common items, personal pronouns for inanimate objects and misuse of verbs like ‘switch off’ for going to sleep and ‘waking up’ for lamps being turned on. Jack knows what sarcasm is, uses words like hideous and hilarious, can read Alice in Wonderland and knows that twice ten makes twenty. The language didn’t seem to fit, and I struggled with it at first.

I did read on, though, and I’m glad I did. As Jack and Ma escape into the real world, Jack experiences everything for the first time, and his wonder and fear and longing for the safety of ‘Room’, his mother’s prison, is endearing and heartbreaking. We journey with Jack as he learns to navigate the world, from windows and stairs and travelators to paying for items in a store, conversations with adults and his first interaction with another child. Jack’s view of the world is unique and insightful, his emotions raw and his imagination unending. The book left an impression that stayed with me for a long time. 3 ½ stars.