Unusual Literary Devices: Background information when reading Forty Rooms

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Forty Rooms

by Olga Grushin

Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin X
Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin
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  • Published:
    Feb 2016, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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Unusual Literary Devices

This article relates to Forty Rooms

Print Review

Olga Grushin's novel Forty Rooms is set in forty different rooms – from a childhood bathroom to her father's study in Russia, and on to a dorm room, and eventually the many rooms in her large suburban American home in which she lives with her husband and six children.

The number forty comes from the idea that the average modern person will occupy forty rooms in his or her lifetime. And so Grushin strategically allows her narrator's life to unfold in the many rooms she inhabits over the novel's narrative arc. For example, it is in her new home's master veranda that the narrator and her husband debate the virtues of homeownership; and in their home's bar that she realizes how troubled her husband's job situation is. While the story is not strictly restricted by this literary device (what happens in one room will flow over into the next), Grushin uses this concept to intriguing effect.

Here is a random sampling of other literary devices that have been used in the recent past:

A Series of Questions
The Interrogative MoodThe Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell. This innovative novel is framed as a series of questions beginning with: Are your emotions pure? While it might seem strange that a nearly 200-page book is just a series of questions, the plot holds together well with a strong narrative and definite hook, even if many readers might find the literary device a tad gimmicky.

Epistolary Novel
Where'd You Go Bernadette?While letters have been the anchor of many a book, one recent hit such as Maria Semple's Where'd You Go Bernadette includes email, files, and official documents to create a marvelous portrait of a strained, but ultimately loving, relationship between a harried Seattle mom and her teen daughter. IlluminaeA similar structure was executed to spectacular effect in the YA novel, Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman, which includes broken code spewing from a robot (there are sections punctuated by the numbers 0 and 1) that is suffused with artificial intelligence.

Unusual Typography and Images
Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseJonathan Safran Foer is well known as a literary boy wonder, and his novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close features an assortment of pictures and typography treatments that complement the story adeptly. The book also has blank pages, disjointed text, and sometimes just one sentence to a page – all devices that feel appropriate to the story being told. The YA book, Illuminae, referenced earlier, uses similar devices to indicate radio static in the universe and even features sentences written along sine curves to underscore these statements to dramatic effect.

Alternate Deliveries
Building StoriesWhat if a book is not just a book within a fixed set of pages but presented in an entirely different format? That's precisely what Chris Ware did with his graphic novel, Building Stories, in 2012, in which the reader had to, quite literally, build the story from pieces that came together in a box. While it can be argued that this doesn't really constitute a literary device, it is part of the reading experience that the reader creates a story, which emphasizes the fleeting nature of memory, and this goal is achieved well by the fourteen units that fit together.

Filed under Reading Lists

Article by Poornima Apte

This article relates to Forty Rooms. It first ran in the March 16, 2016 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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