Room by Emma Donoghue is a novel that I was deeply ambivalent about reading. Its premise - a girl incarcerated and abused, and made pregnant by her captor -  seemed a little voyeuristic (to say the least) in the light of recent events, and a little like cashing in on the horror and trauma. But I can definitely say that Room is a sensitive, thoughtful, unvoyeuristic exploration of the human spirit in adversity. It's narrated by four-year-old Jack, who has only ever known the Room, his only companion his Ma. He is precocious and linguistically advanced for his age, due to Ma's constant educational efforts, yet has all the innocence of any young child, placidly accepting and finding the joy in the life he has been given. Through his voice the horror of "Old Nick's" nightly visits is filtered, and the reader is left in no doubt as to the reality of the situation, but is not overwhelmed by the evil of it. Jack's voice is charming and engaging, and through him we see Ma's courage and strength; this makes the escape attempt all the more terrible and tense. The second half of the novel follows Jack and Ma as they adjust to a sometimes brutal outside world, and although this lacks the intensity of the first half, it is equally as moving in a different way. A somewhat controversial read, both in subject matter and in how it divides opinions, but I would not hesitate to recommend this to anyone looking for a story that will both shock and inspire you. Picador, 2010, ISBN 978-0330519021

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier is an intriguing story that reads like a warm, yet unsettling dream on a cold winter's night. When you die, you go to the great city, to carry on your afterlife. There you stay until there is no one left on Earth that remembers you, at which point, you will vanish out of existence entirely. Lots of people have been arriving in the city lately due to war and disease, but just as quickly they vanish again, as the population of the living starts to seriously dwindle. Those that are left soon start to realise that they have one person in common. Laura, a scientist who is on a research mission in the Antarctic on behalf of the Coca-Cola corporation. Left alone, she starts a perilous trek across the ice to try and contact civilisation - but is there any civilisation left? Although the denouement isn't a surprise, this is a beautiful elegy to the importance of human relationships, even those so brief and inconsequential they have been forgotten by the conscious mind. As Laura sets out on her lonely walk, her mind ponders the fate of everyone she ever knew, from her lover and family, to the sandwich board man she passed every day on her way to work. Thought-provoking and moving, this is a different type of apocalyptic novel, one which makes you want to smile at everyone you meet, and hold their faces in your memory forever. Stunning. John Murray, 2007, EAN 978-0719568305

Out of Breath by Julie Myerson, is a magical, tragic story of lost innocence.Thirteen year-old Flynn has an unhappy home life, so when her brother Sam gets into trouble, she's quick to persuade Sam to run away with her and Alex, a homeless boy she's encountered at the bottom of her garden. What she doesn't bargain for is Alex's friends - the irrepressible six-year-old Mouse, and Diana, who has quite literally just become a teenage mum. They're on the run from a "bad man", and when the group find refuge in an abandoned cottage, Flynn starts to fall deeply in love with Alex. But the dream starts to fall apart and Flynn is forced to confront the terrifying reality of their lives. With the feel of a dream, this is an involving, compassionate story where you really care for the characters; the reader can see the signs of the impending nightmare well before Flynn, which makes it all the more compelling. I'll definitely be reading more novels by this author. Vintage Books, 2009, 978-0099-516163

The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday, is a rather mundane title which gives absolutely nothing away about this shocking book. Elizabeth is resigned to a dull life with her dependable but stultifying husband Michael. But then he starts to behave a little strangely, after he sees the figure of a girl in a painting on the landing (hence the title), a figure that no one else can see. Suddenly Michael becomes passionate, exciting and unpredictable, and Elizabeth starts to actually fall in love with her own husband for the first time. But Michael is having hallucinations - caused by the fact he is no longer taking medication for schizophrenia. Elizabeth is faced with the choice of letting Michael be free, or forcing him to again take the chemical cosh that has kept him dull and docile for most of his adult life. But this is where Torday twists this relationship tale around suddenly and terrifyingly - are Michael's hallucinations a result of his illness, or are they actually real? He gives the reader no answer, leaving you unsettled as this domestic tale of upper-class, privileged marriage turns into a full blown violent thriller. I really didn't see it coming. Torday's other success is in making you relate to characters that could be simply obnoxious - the hilarious sequences in Groucher's gentleman's club, of which Michael is membership secretary, portray a vile last bastion of the British Empire yet were a joy to read, and the denouement is inevitable yet horrifying. Don't let the dull cover put you off - like Michael, this book has hidden, dangerous depths. Phoenix, 2009, 978-0-7538-23408


Make a Free Website with Yola.