Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Tales from the Frontline


I’ve had quite a summer; working in a real office, trying to make plans for my kids when GTH was away travelling, enjoying three separate sets of visits from grandparents, then starting two of my children at a new school all the way across town and trying to chisel my novel revisions in the spare cracks of time that I had. All I can say is kudos to single parents who work full-time: it’s exhausting. And if any of you manage to have social lives and/or write books as well as do all the kid work and stay awake during office hours, then sainthood is sincerely and deservedly yours. I, for one, am looking forward to October when my contract ends and I can stay at home and write in my pyjamas.

In between the working and the working and the revisions, I have managed to read some splendid books. I have just finished Room by Emma Donaghue. Booker Prize alert! (You heard it here first. Or perhaps not.) It is inspired by, but not based on, Elizabeth Fritzl’s longterm incarceration and rape by her father. Donoghue’s imagination was fired by the idea of a child who has never seen the outside world, and, after escaping the Room where he and his mother are imprisoned, has to adjust to what we regard as normality. 

The concept of inside and outside informs the novel. For instance, the five-year-old Jack only knows one bed, one cupboard, one table so he speaks of each without their articles. In Jack’s world, his room is Room, his spoon is Meltedy Spoon and the skylight is Skylight. For him, this world of single objects is reality and it is the outside, designated by Old Nick, their jailer, and Telly, that is is unreal. His mother, known only as Ma, has skillfully woven as normal a life as possible for her child, a life that includes practicing shouting through Skylight, keeping fit on Track, eating a diet of mostly tinned food and keeping Old Nick sweet so that he will bring them their essential requirements (socks, books, new clothes for Jack) for Sundaytreat. Between them, Jack and Ma engineer an escape, Old Nick is captured and Jack has to learn to live in a world that he only knows from TV. His tightly wound relationship with Ma unwinds as she struggles to find a balance back in the life she has come from.

Written entirely from Jack’s point of view, Room is testament to Donoghue’s skill and imaginative acrobatics. She evokes both safety and danger in the Room, and a different set of dangers outside. Jack, who has lived in a hermetically sealed environment, finds himself acutely porous to his new experiences. Imagine a five-year-old who has never walked on grass, who has never worn shoes or slept apart from his mother. He is both innocent and wise beyond his years (counting the creaks when Old Nick makes his nightly visit), and it is in both his babyishness and his maturity that we see ourselves reflected back. Room is a great achievement and a gripping, throat-catching read.

Speaking of feats of the imagination, I am finally reading The Life of Pi. This book was badly marketed (to me at least) as the book about a boy on a raft with a tiger. I dismissed it as cod philosophy of life stuff that I didn’t need to bother with. How wrong was I!  It’s a breath-taking, ingenious accomplishment and I can’t put it down. Yann Martel is the poster writer for visionary literature and I actually feel honoured to be taking a tiny journey into his mind.

Then today in Heidelberg, I walked into a bookshop, a German one with a small English section where I occasionally pick up the new Peter James or Deon Meyer to assauge my crime fix, and there, glinting at me from the shelves was nothing more than Freedom. Freedom! In English and in paperback. Never in the history of book-buying did a transaction take place as quickly; I grabbed it, clutched it to my chest, glanced around anxiously to see if anyone else was bearing down on me and my treasure and ran for the till. It’s shimmering on my bedside table now, just waiting for me to finish Pi.

I know what I’ll  be doing this weekend.

When I’m not doing my revisions, of course.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

9 thoughts on “Tales from the Frontline

  1. I just finished “Room” and loved it. I did cry through the last 30 pages or so… it was just so poignant, seeing Jack’s perceptions shift…

    Loved Life of Pi.

    I know everyone is supposed to be excited about “Freedom” but I am weary of the Franzenhype. Will you let me know if it is really, truly THAT good?

  2. Have fun reading! I’m curious to read Room now.

  3. I have been put off the idea of Life of Pi for years for exactly the same reasons as you. Now I’m very tempted to pick it up. And good luck with the revisions!

  4. I actually *have* the Life of Pi on my shelf but never opened it for the same reasons. I am about to try to read the Corrections again. I think I was too young the first time. Just finished The Slap and it was awesome, also mildly surprised by The Help and how it didn’t inflame my sense of white guilt like I thought it would. Now I have Bridge of Sighs by thingie Russo, which seems quite nice so far.

  5. I’ll be single working mom next week while hubby’s in California. I’ve heard of The Room – you made it sound very beautiful.

  6. I’ve been nervous of The Room because I thought it would be depressing but I keep reading that I must read it. I probably will.

    Life of Pi has been marketed very badly to me too – mostly by my husband. Perhaps I should try it….

  7. (1.) I’ve been hearing lots about Room and know i’m going to have to read it one of these days…your review makes me want to do so sooner rather than later.
    (2.) I own Life of Pi but have ignored it for precisely the same reasons…I am now looking forward to pulling it off the shelves shortly!
    (3.) Yay for Freedom! I’m quite looking forward to that, as well. Fabulous, fun reading post!

  8. Room sounds like something I really should address. I do find it difficult (given what I’m writing) to find time to read outside the YA area or non-fiction relating to my world building activities. Perhaps when I finish this draft I should park everything and just work through the backlog of books you and a few others have highlighted over the last few months…

  9. I’m curious to read both now. How did you enjoy Kate Atkinson’s latest? Come over and see what I’m reading when you take a break from your own and others’ books!

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