By Lynn Reed
Of the six books on the 2010 Man Booker Prize shortlist, Emma Donoghue’s Room seems to be the early popular favorite. I read it and liked it, although I’m not sure I thought it was Booker-worthy. It reminded me of two other works about kidnapped young women, one I read recently and the other in school. The theme of a woman held against her will is as old as storytelling itself—think Persephone—and it’s obviously ripe for mythmaking. Here are three novels of captives, all told from different points of view:
Room by Emma Donoghue
Donoghue has acknowledged that the idea for her story was triggered by Elisabeth Fritzl, who was secreted away for many years by her father and forced to bear his children. There are echoes of Jaycee Dugard, another young woman who endured a similar nightmare, as well. Room is narrated by Jack, who has just had his fifth birthday as the book begins. He and his Ma live in the 11 by 11 foot “Room” of the title. Jack was born here, and has never been outside; his mother is devoted to him and commits all her energy to keeping them both emotionally and physically fit. Since Jack has lived his entire life in the room, he hasn’t had to make the same kind of adjustments she has—in many ways he seems a normal little boy, and has somehow thrived in an unimaginably horrible situation. When the two are finally freed and find themselves Outside, Jack and Ma’s tiny world is destroyed and their resources are truly tested. This is an impossible book to put down, and the tension is palpable. It’s more nightmarish than any horror story because we know it’s happened—and will likely happen again.
Still Missing by Chevy Stevens
Annie O’Sullivan, an attractive real estate agent, is kidnapped while showing an open house. Her abductor is a mysterious, deeply disturbed individual, who keeps Annie hostage for a year in a secluded cabin on Vancouver Island. We learn the facts of her drama obliquely: Annie goes to a therapist afterward on condition that there will be no questions or comments unless she requests them, and the story unfolds in chapters titled by session number as she describes her ordeal. Her captivity and its repercussions are drawn in graphic and horrific detail, and along the way we come to know Annie’s boyfriend Luke, her best friend Christiana, and various family members, including her narcissistic mother Lorraine and her stepfather, Wayne. The plot has some problematic aspects, but there is much to recommend it and the story is a page-turner. Stevens’ descriptions of Annie’s confinement at the hands of the sociopath were so effective and disturbing that I found I had to put the book down at times, and the ending comes with a major twist.
The Collector by John Fowles
Fowles’ first book, this one is told from the viewpoint of the victim as well as her kidnapper through their contrasting journals. We are thus put inside the minds of both jailer and prisoner. Frederick Clegg is a shy clerk who comes into some unexpected money and, with it, buys a secluded cabin in the woods. He has always collected butterflies, but now turns his attention to a young art student named Miranda. He kidnaps her, keeping her captive in his cellar. The first part of the book is drawn from Clegg’s journals, and Fowles masterfully places us inside an insane and obsessive mind, even eliciting some sympathy for him. The second section is taken from Miranda’s diary, where she muses on life before her abduction and her connection with Fred. The third and final part reverts to Clegg’s point of view, and leaves off in an edgy, nervous place. This is a suspenseful and well-told story, an in-depth look at our basic human need for companionship and connection.