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100 in ’11: Donoghue, Marquez and Fitzgerald

Room – Emma Donoghue

Summary: Reminiscent of recent high-profile kidnapping cases, Room centres around a mother and child who live in a single contained room. After a harrowing escape, they struggle to acclimatise to normal life.

Perverse as it may sound, I greatly enjoyed the first part of this book. Child narrator Jack, who has never known anything else, sleeps in the closet, refers to items in the room as proper nouns (Door, Table, Duvet),  lives mainly off canned food, makes toys out of pasta shapes, cardboard rolls food scraps and desperately seeks companionship in the form of a mouse and an ant.

At this stage I have to say what a trooper his mother is; I can honestly say if this were to happen to me, I wouldn’t have coped anywhere near as well as she did. Their daily and weekly routines are achingly poignant – every day they do Scream, which involves standing up to the skylight and yelling as loudly as they can, and Phys Ed, a choice of numerous activities devised by his mother to keep them from wasting away. In the mornings he goes to his mother to “get some”, a kind of creepy reference that didn’t become clear to me until much later on. Some nights Old Nick comes to visit, and Jack counts the number of creaks the bed makes as he falls asleep.

It’s when it comes time to plot their escape that things get really harrowing, and their subsequent struggle to acclimatise to the outside world is painful to follow. But the ending is pitch-perfect, and I closed the book with a smile on my face. You never learn Jack’s mother’s name, and that makes it difficult to get a sense of her as a person – but her love for her son is evident. Some have criticised Donoghue for not telling her side of the story; I think this is a much more delicate narrative choice. It portrays her as almost a Madonna figure, not just a girl robbed of her youth and forced into sex slavery, and ultimately I saw this as a triumph, not a flaw

Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Summary: Meandering tale of some kind of love across the decades.

The greatest love story ever? I was, and still am, sceptical. To be honest, Fermina never seemed all that keen on Florentina, and he in turn barely knew her, but developed a fair obsession nonetheless. Their young affair consists of love notes left in strange places around the small Colombian seaside town where they live, and lasts maybe a year. After she breaks things off with him, she goes on to marry a rich doctor, and Florentina proceeds to watch from afar as their lives play out over the coming decades.

While she becomes a bit of a desperate housewife, he takes on the role of playboy very willingly. In that time he has 622 sexual affairs, including a disturbing last fling with an underage girl whom he had guardianship of. This, ultimately, was what sickened me most (to say nothing of what happened after their affair ended). Once Fermina’s husband dies, Florentina pursues her once more (you gotta admire his tireless perseverance) – although whether what they have is love baffles me. But perhaps with age that’s what happens – the definition of love evolves, something I think Marquez conveys very effectively.

The Beautiful and the Damned – F Scott Fitzgerald

Summary: In the world of socialites and trustfunders, one turbulent marriage goes nowhere fast as the couple await their inheritance. A tale of excesses, of aimlessness, of wasted talent.

A novel in which not a lot happens, because there’s not a heckuva lot to the characters – again, such hateful ones! The mere concept of doing nothing but party while waiting for your grandfather to die so you can get your mitts on his millions, and constantly playing on your family name is abhorrent to me. Yes, Fitzegerald writes beautiful prose. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to sway me. Rich, unhappy people I can do. Rich, unhappy people who squander their money, time and potential – who have no ambitions, no desire, no meaning in life – I simply cannot get into. In short: lovely craft, intolerable non-plot.

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