Choo Woo – Lloyd Jones

I loved Mr. Pip so when John Murray, his publishers, invited me to meet Lloyd Jones I jumped at the chance. In preparation I decided to read one of his other books and because I owned a copy of Choo Woo it was the obvious choice.

Choo Woo isn’t a happy book. It focuses on ten-year-old Natalie who is sexually abused by her mother’s new boyfriend. Her innocence was touching to read, but I found her acceptance of the situation heartbreaking. The book wasn’t sexually explicit, leaving almost everything up to your imagination, but her thoughts and actions seemed realistic and this made the book more disturbing to read.

We also see things from the point of view of Natalie’s father, who is laden with guilt for not noticing what was happening to his daughter.

I wondered how I had missed so many obvious things. I wondered what had turned my head at crucial moments when a more deliberate glance would have told me everything. I wondered where the hell my head was during that year for a thing like that to have happened right under my nose.

The simple, powerful writing was gripping throughout, but by the end I just felt deflated and sad. It came across as an accurate portrayal of an abused child, but I didn’t feel as though I’d learnt anything new.

By coincidence I have read quite a few books about child abuse recently and feel I could write a essay comparing them. Instead I’ll summarize with a little table:

  Point of View Emotion New Perspective
Room Child of Abused Bucket Loads YES!
Forgetting Zoe Abuser, Abused and Family of Abused Trace In Places
Choo Woo Abused Child and Father of Abused Lots No

Reading about any form of abuse is hard, but when it affects a child it is even worse. I think I’ll try and avoid books about the subject for a while, but I have found it interesting to compare them all.

Recommended to anyone who enjoys dark, sad stories.

Have you read any of the other books that Lloyd Jones has written?

Which was your favourite?

Lloyd Jones has a new book coming out soon.

Hand Me Down World will be released on 11th November in the UK (2nd Nov in the US).

I’m going to be giving away copies of this new book on my blog soon, so if you are interested in winning a copy keep your eyes peeled for my giveaway post.


Forgetting Zoë – Ray Robinson

I accepted a copy of Forgetting Zoë for review because I’d seen Scott Pack rave about it on numerous occasions. I didn’t love it as much as he did, but am pleased that I read it.

Forgetting Zoë revolved around the abduction of Zoë, a ten-year-old girl. The first few chapters introduced us to Thurman, her captor, and went some way to explaining the mindset of a man about to imprison a girl. We were then introduced to Zoë as she was abducted and imprisoned in a converted nuclear bunker beneath a remote farm house in Arizona.

The book was told from the point-of view of Thurman, Zoë and Zoë’s family. It was fast paced and very well written, but the pace of the book meant that it lacked the emotional depth I’d expect from a book with this subject matter. The short chapters and continuing switch of view point meant that I never had long enough to really engage with any of the characters. This could be seen as a positive attribute as it meant that I never became distressed while reading it, but I found it strange to read such a dark subject without getting tears in my eyes.

The fear never subsided. Often mistaking the trickle of tears in her ears for insects Zoë would bat them away and then lick her fingers, half comforted by the taste of herself. These never-ending days below. Her memories were being eaten away by the silence and so she hummed to herself to remind her whose skin she was in.

It was interesting to read Zoë’s thoughts about her abduction and to see her reliance on her captor grow, but I’m afraid that I can’t say any more without spoiling the ending for you.

It is almost impossible to review this book without comparing it to Room, my favourite book of the year so far. The two books had very similar plots, the only real difference being that Room was narrated by the five-year-old child of the abducted woman. The main reason that I found Room so special was the innocence of the child, the way his mother protected him from the true horror of their situation and the fact he could actually find happiness with so little. Many people that read Room wished some of the book had been narrated by his mother. I never felt that, but if you did then I suspect that you’ll enjoy Forgetting Zoë.

Recommended to anyone looking for a fast paced, intelligent book about the lives of those affected by the abduction of a child, especially those who thought Room was overly sentimental.

2010 Booker Prize Recommended books

Room – Emma Donoghue

 Short listed for 2010 Booker Prize

Room is the best book I’ve read this year. It tells the story of a woman who has been abducted and imprisoned in a single room. The book is narrated by her five-year-old son, Jack, who was born in captivity and protected from fear by his mother. On his fifth birthday she tells him the truth about their situation and Jack is shocked to discover that there is a world outside their four walls. His simple, happy life is crushed as they plot their escape and he realises that the world is much more complicated than he ever imagined.

I had heard a lot of hype about this book and wondered how it could possibly live up to the ravings I’d seen flying around the Internet. When I read the first few chapters I was a bit sceptical.  The writing style took some time to get used to (five-year-olds have a very different way of looking at the world!), but once I grew to appreciate the truth about Jack’s life I was gripped. I read the whole book in a single day, unable to tear myself away from the pages.

Jack’s mother shelters him from reality so we have to read between the lines to see the horrors that she is subjected to, but I found the insight into our society more disturbing than the physical abuse. The book asks important questions about what makes us happy and the way we look after our children. In many ways it reminded me of Flowers for Algernon, another wonderful book that questions our values.

Room is easy to read and will have broad appeal. I’m sure I’ll be thinking about Jack for many years to come and I know that since finishing the book I’ve been looking at the way I spend time with my own sons slightly differently.

It is a modern classic that will continue to be enjoyed many years from now.

Highly recommended.

Will Room win the Booker Prize?

I would love to see Room win the Booker prize, but I’m not sure it will stand up to multiple re-reads. The joy is in the way it makes us look at the world around us – the things we take for granted and the way we often forget the simple pleasures of life. I’m sure it will become a best seller and it has a very good chance of winning the Orange Prize 2011, but I think a more literary novel will scoop the Booker this year.