To be read with: a cup of black coffee, spiked with Kahlúa. Like the drink, parts of the book encompass dark, bitter, and sweet flavours.
One of the most unique things about this book is that the author, Emma Donoghue, chooses to tell the story through the narration of her five year old protagonist Jack. I have mixed feelings about this as a reader. I will use the “sandwich method” of delivering my criticism, that is, one negative ‘sandwiched’ by two positives.
First I will say that it takes an incredibly talented writer to be able to delve into the linguistics and thought patterns of such a young human being and have it come across as credible. After finishing the book, I looked through the acknowledgements and saw that Donoghue did enlist the help of child psychologists and experts. Jack’s intellect is noted a few times as being quite high, which allows the narration to take some liberties with conveying certain things that perhaps the average kindergartener would not be able to do. I also think that if you have children, this style may appeal to you for the novelty of being able to see the world through a child’s eyes.
While I do acknowledge the talent that goes in to being able to write like this, I am not the type of reader that enjoys narration by characters that are children or animals. For example, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, or The Art of Racing In The Rain. These are all acclaimed novels and I don’t doubt that they are well written or that they resonate with a lot of people, I just find it tiring to be reading something written in a childlike way that could be far more succinct and accurate.
Another positive is that having a young narrator in a book with such uncomfortable subject matter means that Donoghue ensures that the point comes across without it having to be graphic. The reader understands certain things without having to cross the threshold into deeply dark and disturbing imagery, and I think that it’s another sign of Donoghue’s talent that the impact of the story is not lost without this.
I definitely do recommend this book. The plot was very well constructed, if a bit slow for the beginning. It’s a quick read with a happy ending. If you’re planning on seeing the movie, I would recommend reading the book first.