Emma Donoghue’s novel was shortlisted for the Booker in 2010 and got so many rave reviews that year that I ended up getting it, despite feeling it wouldn’t exactly be my type. Well, lesson learnt – I should listen to my instincts.
I don’t get the heaps of praise – the subject matter is the ripped-from-the-headlines sort of affair and feels a bit exploitative; while her approach to it is not particularly original or insightful. It maybe poses some questions about the modern world, but does it so heavy-handedly; they end up being practically irrelevant.
We have a kidnapped young woman kept in a shed by her captor for 7 years giving birth to a boy who, once he turns 5, will be instrumental in their escape. The first part of the novel takes place in room, while the second deals with their re-adjustment in the outside world – and both are equally manipulative. Young Jack – through whose eyes we see the whole ordeal – is precocious in some ways (reading, writing) but predictably underdeveloped emotionally and socially. The feelings that Ms. Donoghue tries to pry out of you are so…obvious – sympathy for all involved and a kind of mixture between “awww, how cute” and “poor kid” for Jack (not sure what the exact name is, but it feels patronizing) – that I just can’t go with the flow. And this right here might be why I rejected the book so much: I hate it when someone takes it upon themselves to guide me into feeling something.
I found it cloying, fake and lacking in any subtlety or substance – a very unpopular opinion, considering everywhere I turned I only saw appreciation. But – to each his own, I guess. Maybe we’re all desensitized by the crap on TV & on the internet, but this book doesn’t help empathize with the real victims – it actually does the contrary. As to its literary merits – using the kid as a narrator is a good gimmick and makes for a nice Sunday book club read, but it ensures that you never go beyond the façade, the form.
And there’s also the book site – which I suppose is a marketing initiative, but which I still find creepy to say the least.