Friday, July 1, 2011

Book Reviews: Cleaning Nabokov's House & Room

While vacationing at my parents' cottage in northern Michigan and visiting my cousin's family in Illinois over the last week, I read two very different books --- Cleaning Nabokov's House by Leslie Daniels and Room by Emma Donaghue.  Reading Cleaning Nabokov's House was kind by chance.  When I go to the library with the kids in tow, I've resigned myself to that fact that I will NEVER be able to browse in the adult section.  I have tried in the past and it has ended in kids yelling at each other while climbing through the bottom shelves of the stacks to get into other aisles with me in hot pursuit.  The result --- no books for me.  The route from the children's section to the circulation desk leads past the new releases.  On our last library visit, I judged Cleaning Nabokov's House by its cover, grabbed it, and finally I had a book to read!  

This book is unlike any I have read.  The narrator Barb is a 39 year old woman who is recently divorced from her controlling husband and has lost custody of her children.  In order to have a house that the court considers appropriate for her children to stay at during visitation, she rents a house formerly owned by Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita.  Barb is a writer by trade so the court secures her a job responding to customer letters for a local dairy.  Needless to say, the woman is deflated and dejected.  Then, while cleaning Nabokov's house, Barb discovers a hidden stack of index cards that may be the undiscovered notes from Nabakov's last novel.  This discovery leads in an unexpected direction---Barb ends up being the madam of a cathouse.  

Unexpected is how the rest of the book goes as well.  Everything in the book from the discovery of the index cards on sends Barb in surprising directions.  During the time I was reading the book, I wasn't sure how I felt about it.  The narrator's voice had a quality to it that felt very different to me, but I couldn't put my finger on why.  Perhaps it was because I had trouble relating to the fact she had given up and was not working toward getting her children back.  Her ex had won.  By the end though, Barb had come back to life.  She was clawing her way out of the abyss in ways most of us would never even consider and failure was no longer an option.  The book has an appeal to it that makes me believe that one day it could be optioned to be a movie.  One of the books reviews said it was "an epic comedy told in an epic new voice."  Is it "epic"?  I wouldn't say epic, but the voice is definitely new.  I enjoyed this one.  It was an easy read with a unique premise.
Then, I read a completely different story when I tackled Room.  Room is told in the voice of 5 year old Jack.  Jack has spent his entire life with his Ma inside an 11x11 foot shed that he knows as "Room."  As you get further into the book, more and more is revealed about Jack and Ma's daily life, and how they arrived in Room.  As you read you wonder---will they get out?  Why are they being kept there?  Will they try to escape?  All is revealed by the end of the book.  Emma Donoghue does an outstanding job with the voice of Jack and showing how he has coped with the constraints of his small surroundings.  I highly recommend this book.

Well, we're back from Illinois.  I'll post some photos from our trip in the next few days.  I'm relieved that we don't have any plans this weekend.  Hurray for stay-cations!  Happy 4th of July weekend to all!


The Reader said...

I thoroughly enjoyed Room when I read it. Well, inasmuch as one can enjoy a story on that particular subject matter. What I mean to say is that I found it very well written and worth reading.

Will check out Cleaning N's House; sounds intriguing!

Paul KH said...

Great reviews, they both sound interesting reads, maybe the second one is more my kind of thing. I'll have to keep an eye out for them.


Harvest Moon by Hand said...

Both the books sound like they'd be ones I'd find interesting. I'll have to add them to my list of "need to read" books.

Enjoyed reading your off to the library's website to order the books!