Friday, August 19, 2011

Two Reviews, Vastly Different Tales: Room (Emma Donoghue) and The Passage (Justin Cronin)

I confess...I'm not feeling very blog-erly.  I'm just exhausted.  I know this is to be expected, that my prior surgeries where I was up and running the next day, are NOT good reference points and recovery is in months, not days.  But it still sucks.

I do, however want to post two reviews.  Neither is a Harper book, both were Amazon purchases aimed at recovery as a treat I'd wanted to read, the other recommended highly by friends.

  • Room by Emma Donoghue
Room by Emma Donoghue was one of the most talked about books of 2010.  It is told from the point of view of Jack, a five year-old boy who has only known life in the small room where his mother has been held captive for many years.  This is Jack's "normal"...he does have TV and considers things like the ocean to be just television, whereas the Table and Wardrobe (where his mom has him hide when the captor visits at night and Jack counts the bed squeaks) are "real."  It is in the early stages of the book that his mom tries to explain that the world is bigger than she previously allowed him to know.

There's a lot of great craft here.  Jack personifies the objects in the room because they are all he has.  His mother has done an amazing job giving richness to their limited world and he has a great deal of difficulty comprehending the outside world.  The language is very much that of a child and it takes some adjustment to get used to the voice. 

I'd give this 3.5 stars and will round up to 4 for the half-star-phobic rating sites.  I liked it, I just didn't LOVE it.  The characters were well-done.  Jack's mother is an amazing parent but also definitely flawed, which I appreciate.  Jack's view feels on-point.  Without all the hype, I might have been at four stars without the's always hard to live up to being so talked about. 
I wouldn't have picked up The Passage on my own.  I'd heard the author last summer and liked that he followed his daughter's request to write about a girl who saved the world, but the zombie-vampire epic didn't turn my head.  But the husband of a close friend, and then the friend herself, urged me to reconsider.  It also seemed like a good fit, frankly, for the timing...I started it in the hospital and finished in the first week or so following major surgery and it seemed like it would be attention-holding but not too "literary" and thus approachable in a less-than-ideal time.

There are distinct parts to The Passage, itself the first installment of a trilogy (the others haven't been released yet).  In the first section, they establish the background of a military-tied project involving a virus intended to create an immortal super-warrior that goes horribly awry and creates demon-like creatures.  The test subjects are largely criminals on death row but the agent in charge of bringing the subjects to the lab is also sent for a young girl, Amy, with whom he connects deeply.  Amy is infected but has very different results than the others and, after the other virals break free and wreak havoc, she and the agent eventually run off to find safety.  The second section picks up decades later when North America has been overrun with the creatures.  After Amy arrives at the Colony, an encampment of people in a society constructed behind fortified walls, a party makes efforts to explore the world beyond the walls and find hope in a very despondent world.

As many reviewers have said, I found the first section (which is MUCH shorter) to be more compelling that the latter.  This is an epic in many senses, it spans a century and pits man against "beast."  It does, however, get more complex.  Not all of the creatures are truly evil but rather shown to be victims in their own right (albeit victims with blood-lust).  I did find it very got tedious at times but generally didn't feel burdensome or unnecessarily long.  I'm falling back on my frequent 3.5 star rating, good but not great and I'm not sure if I will seek out the sequels (maybe if I get them cheap).  I will round up to 4 simply because I think it does what it sets out to do and I want to judge it on those terms.  It was certainly more than I'd have expected and the prodding was worthwhile.

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