“Room” by Emma Donoghue (2010) and “The Collector” by John Fowles (1963) – giving ‘small but perfectly formed’ a whole new dimension

The brilliant Baftas were just upon us again, and another baby star is coincidentally born, with the heart-stopping performance of Jacob Tremblay as five year-old Jack. When I read “Room” for the first time, my own daughter was 12 and we were still pretty well joined at the hip for any out and about-ing that was going on after school. Revisiting the story now with her the same age as Brie, sorry Ma, was when she was lifted out of her world and restrained in a 10×10 ft space at the age of 17 is almost too chilling to contemplate visually – which is of course what the film has now done so graphically.

The more time passes the less enthusiastic I sometimes feel about seeing the written word translated to cinema, but I’m getting better at setting them apart. It was that way for “Brooklyn” and “War & Peace” and it was very much the same for “Room”. While reading the book, which I thought was staggering and oh so very memorable, I remember feeling a bit frustrated by the second half of the book.

I believe Emma Donoghue captures the tone and vocabulary and mindset of a five year old quite fantastically, and I’ve enjoyed watching her interviews where she cheerfully admits to ruthlessly observing her own son at the time of scribing the book to really coin those phrases and attitudes. It works. What would have made “Room” a perfect read for me (and even if not everyone has read the book am sure am spoiling nothing by revealing that the two do escape, thank God) would have been to have Ma take over the tale once the release from capture has happened and we follow their equally challenging times out in the real world. I did tire a little of Jack’s voice three quarters of the way through (maybe like in real life we all know we did on occasion with our own chattering Offspring at that age, dare I say it?) and very much wanted to be inside Ma’s mind and get a fuller sense of her experience. This is where I think the film is perhaps even more powerful than the closing chapters of the book. Towards the very end of the film there is a moment that absolutely knocked my socks off. No words involved, but it has stayed branded on my brain.

Brie Larson, have to say, who was such a cracker in “States of Grace” and who I see is going to portray Jeanette Walls in “The Glass Castle”, is so terrific in this role of the girl-turned-mother, and couldn’t be more ecstatic that she has just won the Best Actress Award at the said Baftas. You get a very acute sense of her portrayal of the all-encompassing love for this child born in such extraordinary circumstances, plus there are little electrifying jabs during the film, such as the realisation of what the red marks under the threadbare carpet are, and her feral protection of her little boy when she sends him to Wardrobe. Good on Emma Donoghue for transforming her words to the big screen and doing the screenplay herself – it was a courageous thing to do and I think she pulled it off effortlessly. By the by, I read that she is now adapting her more recent novel “Frog Music” for a forthcoming feature film, so will be intrigued to read this book in the not too distant, although the reviews are very ‘love it or hate it’, hmmm.

In my late teens, I had a big John Fowles phase and got very carried away with Meryl and Jeremy and was proudly swept away by “The Magus” (now that is a book I do need to revisit). In the light of the revival of “Room” just now couldn’t resist re-reading his first book “The Collector”. If you haven’t read it, it’s a good one to add to any list. It’s a very quick read and it will stay with you, scout’s honour. Frederick Clegg is an obscure little clerk and collector of butterflies who within the very first pages of his story nets his first human specimen, fresh and full of life 20 year old Miranda Grey, who finds herself pinned down if not literally then geographically in an almost as constrained and no less prison-like situation.

These two books have much in common despite their own forty-year-old age difference. Both involve the unimaginable and the stealing of a young person’s innocence in their prime years; both explore the awfulness of being totally dependent upon a malevolent predator, who literally holds their lives in his hands – and indeed both books are divided into two main complimentary parts. The opening spiel on my copy of “The Collector” states boldly that “rarely does a publisher introduce a novel of such devastating power” and goes on to “invite you to open to the first page – we believe you will be compelled to read on”. They do not exaggerate. Fowles’ writing guarantees a jaw-dropping, skin prickling, discomforting read, and once you have started it you need to clear the decks to be able to push through to the very last page – and beware of reading reviews on it for fear of spoiling anything. It’s disquieting, it’s plausible (if now a tiny bit dated) and it’s utterly gripping. I see that a film was made in 1965, and once the book and dvd buying ban is over I will be sorely tempted to try and get my hands on a copy, as I cannot imagine anyone better than Terence Stamp to represent this Caliban character.

Meanwhile, general health warning : keep a wide berth of any dodgy characters who end up winning preposterously large sums on the Lottery or any perfectly innocuous looking individuals who seem as though they fit the bill but ask you to peek in the back of their van because they’ve just knocked a dog over – it didn’t augur well for the girl in “Silence of the Lambs” either, and manages to put even the Child Catcher from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” in the shade – if in doubt, call a friend or ask an audience to join you…

“The Collector” – 9/10

“Room” – 9/10 : Man Booker nomination 2010, Shortlisted for the Orange Prize 2011, etc etc etc.

Images taken from here, here, here and here
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15 Responses to “Room” by Emma Donoghue (2010) and “The Collector” by John Fowles (1963) – giving ‘small but perfectly formed’ a whole new dimension

  1. Pingback: Book Group II – Susan’s Club, U.K. | Literary ramblings etc

  2. Pingback: Book Group I – Paris Evening Group | Literary ramblings etc

  3. I really liked Room but I’ve never read The Collector – I will seek it out!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I adored The Collector (and The Magus) but agree with you on Room. Something from Ma’s perspective would have been welcome. I’ve yet to see the movie but am looking forward to it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Denise says:

    The Collector was one of the first presents my husband gave me!! It is also set around Lewes, where I live now.
    Hoping not to spoiler anything for anyone, but after I’d read it, I said to my husband, “That axe would have gone straight in his head if it had been me.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • !! am not sure if you have read “Room”? the two male characters are treated so differently in the two stories – here as you say we can almost reach out and touch him and feel very strong waves of anger towards him; in Room he’s a very intangible character and almost absent from the book. In the second half he is just gone from their lives and we know nothing of the before or the after. I’d be interested to know how you thought the two compared…
      Are there any axes in your garden, by the by??

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      • Denise says:

        I keep meaning to read Room, but have heard similar things to your frustrations, it is good, but flawed, and I am worried that I will just be too frustrated. Mind you, my book stocks are getting low and this seems to be an evening of finally ordering books, so this one is now winging its way to me too!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Keep me posted…. (hope you like it, hate to have encouraged you to buy a book you don’t love…)

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  6. I like your book/film comparison here. I have not read or seen any of the items mentioned here, I’m sure there was a movie version of The Collector back in the day. I never expect a movie to follow the book. In fact, I think the movie should be a good movie, not a visual record of the book. I know this is a minority view, but expecting a book to duplicate the experience of reading just leads me into frustration.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes, you’re right. Whenever I can I try to read something before I see it on the big screen, but it doesn’t always work and it’s not always a problem really. What a treat, in fact, to get two perspectives sometimes… although if a film is very disappointing that can be pretty frustrating. Was just talking to someone tonight who was saying that the film of “Angela’s Ashes” is not a patch on the book, which am hoping to read next month. I guess I’ll just have to put it to the test…

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  8. Monique says:

    I was a great fan of John Fowles some xxx years ago in my late teens I suppose, was very impressed and taken by The Magus especially, but read the Collector also and thought it was chilling. Will not be able to compare it with Room, you did such a good work I won’t have to read it then!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe we should re-read The Magus? I can remember it making a big impression on me too, but couldn’t begin to remember the essence of it now – can you? Maybe a candidate for a read for over the summer (less ambitious than “A Suitable Boy” !!) xx

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  9. Monique says:

    Not a bad idea…no I cannot remember the details, I do not have your striking memory for books; i wonder where that particular book has gone…probably in my mother’s cave, with a few others!

    Liked by 1 person

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