“Now go we in content/ To liberty, and not to banishment”

As You Like It, Act 1, Scene 3

William Shakespeare

A non-Shakespeare-related blog post about a couple of the books I read over the summer, and have only just got round to posting about: ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue and ‘Year of Wonders’ by Geraldine Brooks. The reason I’ve chosen this particular titular quote for these books is that the theme I’m relating to the two of them is that of ‘entrapment’. Honestly, I had to wrack my brains to find a theme that linked the two, but I’m pretty pleased with this one 🙂 Both books are about people being trapped in a small place with only a few people for company, under very traumatic circumstances and, after being released, having to come to terms with a new, much larger world.

However, this is expressed in very distinct ways; the key difference being subject matter. ‘Room’ is about an abducted women living in a locked room with Jack, the five year old boy she has born her kidnapper, whom she depends upon for everything. However, Jack doesn’t realise this – the only world he has ever known is ‘Room’, which contains ‘TV’, ‘Rug’, ‘Bed’, etc. The book takes place at the point at which Jack has to come to terms with the fact that there are other things outside of ‘Room’ and that the some of the things he sees on ‘TV’ are actually real and not pretend. I’m not going to say more than that, as I’ll ruin the suspense for you, but rest assured it’s a gripping read.

The entrapment experienced by Anna Frith, the protagonist of ‘Year of Wonders’ is of a different nature; unlike Jack she certainly doesn’t feel safe in her entrapment and longs to be in the outside world. However, both books are based on a true story, although ‘Year of Wonders’ is a lot more historical than ‘Room’. The latter is somewhat influenced by the story of Josef Fritzl, and the former is heavily influenced by the story of a village in the Penines in 1666 when the plague took hold of London. The book is based on a true story, when the infection spread to this village, and they decided, rather than allowing it to spread, to put themselves under self-enforced exile. Anna tells the story, as she watches her family and hundreds of her 350 population die around her, and assists the dedicated but intense vicar and his virtuous wife.

Both books were really enjoyable; both very plot-focused and therefore very gripping. I would proabably say I found ‘Room’ the most engrossing out of the two, mainly because, as I’ve mentioned several times before, I often have trouble with protagonists. Personally, I found it much easier to excuse Jack of his faults because of his youth and his background, whereas Anna, , I found more difficult to like (although I realise it was a different time, different place, different marriage system, etc.)

For me, the endings of both books were slight anti-climaxes, perhaps because I was so absorbed in them, and in the details of entrapment; I loved the world that Donoghue created, where you knew what everything was, and so could picture it vividly, yet she described it so clearly through Jack’s eyes that it all seemed new. I didn’t exactly ‘enjoy’ the desrciptions of the deaths and the religious fanatism that took hold of many of the people in ‘Year of Wonders’, since they were pretty disturbing, but they were extremely well-written and very riveting. However, I almost didn’t want these to end, and therefore the endings were a little bland comparatively. I think I would have almost preferred if they had been left more ambiguously, especially ‘Room of Wonders’.

Basically, overall, two great books, very plot-driven and very easy to read, which I would really recommend, although, be warned! You can’t stop in the middle of them to go to sleep; you have to keep on and on reading until they’re finished.

Coming up soon, reviews of all the Shakespeare books I’ve read for my EPQ so far (which I’ve finally started writing, by the way!), of ‘Life: an exploded diagram’ Mal Peet, ‘Letters to Alice on first reading Jane Austen’ Fay Wheldon, ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ Stephen Chbolsky and whatever else I get up to in the next few weeks. Keep reading! 🙂

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