I borrowed Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett from the library because I really enjoyed reading The Bus on Thursday last year. Barrett’s debut novel was longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2016. Set in the early 20th century in the port town of Eden in New South Wales, ‘Rush Oh!’ is loosely based on the life of George Davidson, one of Australia’s most prominent master whalers at the time. During the 1908 season, his fictional teenage daughter, Mary, is tasked with supporting her father’s whaling crew and caring for her five siblings after their mother’s death, and the arrival of the mysterious former Methodist preacher, John Beck, proves to be a welcome distraction for her.
In ‘Rush Oh!’, Barrett strikes a good balance between the well-researched and brutal descriptions of whale hunting and the more gentle strands of Davidson family drama. Mary is a brilliantly imagined narrator, looking back on the events of her youth with amusingly chatty asides to the reader. In terms of genre, Barrett’s two novels to date couldn’t be more different, but they share a brilliant sense of humour and I look forward to reading more by Barrett in the future. Continue reading
Autumn usually sees the publication of novels by popular authors in the run-up to Christmas and there are some excellent ones appearing on the shelves this year. ‘Akin’ by Emma Donoghue tells the story of Noah Selvaggio is a widower and retired chemistry professor born in France and based in New York. He is planning his first visit back to Nice since he was a child in time for his 80th birthday. However, he discovers he has an 11-year-old great-nephew called Michael whose father died from a drug overdose and whose mother is in prison. Noah is the only relative available to take care of Michael and he decides to take him along on his trip of a lifetime. Continue reading
‘The Wonder’ by Emma Donoghue tells the story of Lib Wright, a widowed English nurse who trained under Florence Nightingale during the Crimean war. She is sent to a rural village in Ireland to independently observe Anna O’Donnell, an eleven-year-old girl whose parents claim has not eaten any solid food for four months, subsisting purely on “manna from heaven” and a few teaspoons of water a day. While the community accepts this claim without questioning it and visitors travel from afar to witness the miracle, Lib is immediately sceptical and expects the medical surveillance to be over in a couple of days once the fraud has been exposed. She alternates her shifts with a local nun Sister Michael and considers every possible way food could have been secretly smuggled to Anna. However, as more time passes, Lib starts to doubt her own beliefs and realises that there is more to Anna’s case than meets the eye.
One of my very early blog posts in May 2012 was a book review of Room by Emma Donoghue which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2010. Last month, I attended a preview screening at The Hospital Club in central London of the new film adaptation directed by Lenny Abrahamson with a screenplay written by Donoghue herself. Starring Brie Larson as Ma and Jacob Tremblay as her son Jack, ‘Room’ has already received widespread critical acclaim including four Academy Award nominations earlier today and has dominated film festivals around the world. It had a limited release last October in the United States and will open in cinemas across the UK tomorrow on Friday 15th January 2016.
Having read some pretty strange books recently (The Unconsoled and The Unbearable Lightness of Being spring to mind), I really wanted to read something that was based upon some good old-fashioned story-telling and a linear plot. On one hand, I wanted a book that wasn’t too taxing on the brain. On the other hand, I wanted a book that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to read in public on a train. ‘The Sealed Letter’ by Emma Donoghue was just what I needed. Continue reading
‘Room’ tells the harrowing story of Ma, kidnapped seven years ago by captor Old Nick and her five year old son Jack who are imprisoned in a single room. Partially inspired by Josef Fritzl’s incarceration of his daughter, there are no real surprises to the plot of this novel if you are familiar with the background of this case. But whereas the hysterical media coverage of such crimes often focuses as much if not more on the abusers than the abused, Donoghue has wisely chosen to focus on the story of Ma and Jack rather than Old Nick who only makes brief appearances throughout.
For Ma, Room is a prison where she has been abused and raped. But for Jack, Room is home and he knows nothing else. It is his struggle to deal with the alien concept of Outside that is the most affecting aspect of the book. As well as writing very convincingly on this subject, Donoghue is also excellent at building suspense and evoking the claustrophobia of solitary confinement. Continue reading