Book Review: Philomena – Martin Sixsmith

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After being made into a film starring Judi Dench I had to hunt down the book before seeing the movie, which I try and do every time. The book follows Philomena and her search for the son she was forced to give up as an unmarried mother in Ireland in the 1950s. The novel starts with Philomena’s violent labour, through the eyes of a young nun. The novel then follows her and her young son, Anthony through their time at the nunnery. The novel outlines her horrific conditions young women in Ireland in the 1950s faced, the worst being forced to sign a legal document stating that they will never contact their children again, despite bonding with them for three years. The savage beatings from horrific nuns and at times not being told as your child is simply taken away from you. The scandal of children being sold to Americans could have also been handled better. The novel does have a few unclear perspective changes I warn you, I got terribly confused at points.

I felt quite uncomfortable reading from what was supposed to be Michael’s perspective, because it really isn’t.  I don’t feel like we really get either perspective, Michaels or Philomena’s, the book is mostly guesswork from the author’s idea of what happened and the memories of others. We will never know what was really felt by Michael and I wonder if we can really appreciate his story in this manner. We will never know how he felt in his relationships with his adopted family, nor will we really know how he felt being a secretive gay man in the republican party at the height of the AIDS scare in the United States.

I desperately wanted to know more about what Philomena does after she leaves the nunnery. As fascinating as Michael’s story was I wanted to know more about the woman who had her heart broken, we are simply left to wonder and don’t meet her again for years. Apparently the book is also called The Lost child of Philomena Lee a much more fitting title than the one currently given because the book only really focuses on Michael’s life. I couldn’t help but notice throughout the novel the awful impression that religion leaves on both mother and son and the lasting effects on both of them.

I give this 3 stars simply because I got very bored with it. It wasn’t really a page turner and I could quite easily put it down and walk away from it. I felt like it was largely based on stereotypes and not always on fact, possibly due to the fact that a large part of the book was trying to put the pieces together. The ending was also a little disappointing and I’m hoping that the film version could possibly bring the story to life.

Book Review: Room – Emma Donoghue

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“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.”

Five year old Jack lives with his mother in ‘Room’, they play there, sleep there and learn there. Jack has never known the outside but his mother plans to make sure that he does soon. After being kidnapped Jack’s mother, simply named ‘Ma’, was imprisoned by her captor and rapist, she becomes pregnant with his child, which is is forced to bring up in the small room. For the first five years of his life, Jack has no idea that there is an outside, thinking that the TV is magical and there is nothing else. Until one day Ma makes a plan to escape, but she needs Jack’s help.

Copies of Room are everywhere right now, after Brie Larson’s oscar win, the film of Room has become a phenomenon. As with many great films though, a beautifully written novel is behind it. I read Donoghue’s novel a few years ago after it was recommended by a friend, I was absolutely blown away by it. The novel is an emotional read, there is no way around it but it also captures a world that hasn’t been considered before, the life of a child raised in captivity. The entire novel is seen through Jack’s eyes, as he tries to understand first that there is a world outside of the four walls he knows and then he has to try and navigate that world.

After their escape, which I read in a blur because I was so worried for little Jack through the whole part of the novel, both Jack and Ma need to adjust to a new world that they don’t know. Although we only see Jack’s perspective, Donoghue has also captured the effect that it has on Ma, after being away for so long. I think it’s more devastating because it is being seen through the eyes of her son, the only person she’s had in her life for years, as she tried to come to terms with what has happened to her and what will happen next. Donoghue is honest in the rehabilitation of these women and the hardships they face trying to go back into a society that has changed so much since they were last a part of it.

The plot mirrors some of the experiences of the big cases that have come out in the media where young women were imprisoned and gave birth to the children of their captors, although little is known of those children. The fact that Donoghue has gone from this angle is not only incredible in its own right, but even more so because she appears to have done such a good job of trying to imagine what must go through these children’s minds. There is also the issue of how these children are received, while Ma clearly loves her son deeply and does not associate him with her captor, it is understandable that others may struggle with the child being ‘the child of the captor’ as well as the victim. All of these subjects are dealt with in a respectful way and appear to have had a lot of research.

Of course I gave this book 5 stars *****. Donoghue is a truly magnificent writer with an inspiring talent. The way that the story is told is absolutely phenomenal, not only do Jack and Ma come to life, we really care for them and their recovery. I would definitely recommend reading the book before seeing the film, because no matter how many awards it has won, it wouldn’t have been possible without Donoghue’s magnificent storytelling.

Chloe Metzger