The Smoking Room (New Island, ISBN 1-904301-40-0) is a stunning little book by Julie Parsons, written as part of the fourth Open Door series of books. These are written by Irish writers for reluctant adult readers, or those who have reading difficulties.
It is a pleasure to find a book in a series such as this, which combines an ease of language with adult themes. As such, it can easily be used in adult literacy classes in a non-patronising way.
Of course, this book is just as suitable for more experienced adult readers, as it deals with the themes of love, both marital and illicit, jealousy, insecurity and revenge.
Jack is married to Miriam, a spoilt child of a wealthy businessman, who is determined to make her mark on the world and will stop at nothing to get her own way. Jack’s one escape from the increasingly loveless marriage is his workplace – the Department of Health and Welfare, where he enjoys his job, much to Miriam’s dismay.
It is there, in the smoking room, that Jack meets and falls in love with Grace. She reciprocates his feelings. But Miriam suspects and affair, even before it starts. And she warns him that she would know if he was unfaithful.
Jack, however, despite the guilt and sense of duty he feels when Miriam suffers the miscarriage of a baby Jack did not know even existed, he is still determined to be with the woman he loves. He hides his affair, arranges his life and, finally, at long last, succeeds in achieving his aim.
His life, then, is as potentially perfect as it could get – until he has to leave Grace for a couple of days for a work trip. It is only then that the real consequences of his actions reveal themselves, and Jack finally discovers just how trapped he is in his marriage to Miriam.
A Plot of Dilemma and Decision
Surprisingly, for such a small book, the plot is intertwined with constant twists and and decisions which emanate from a person’s decision to have an affair and leave the spouse. Throughout the entire story, even though Jack is the one who is guilty of the affair and leaving his wife for another woman, the narrative is written in such a way that the reader has total sympathy for him and the situation in which he finds himself.
This sympathy, and even empathy, is aided somewhat by the almost evil portrayal of Miriam, from her stark, perfect appearance, to the way in which she manipulates Jack after her miscarriage, and the contrast in both appearance and nature between her and her rival, Grace. There is nothing about Grace which can invite hatred and distrust regarding her or the relationship she has with Jack. If anything, sympathy is created for her as she struggles to deal with her mother’s illness and subsequent death.
In fact, the women in Jack’s life act as catalysts for his actions and the dramatic plot twists, right through to the end of the book. Jack seemingly makes his own decisions, but the actions and words of the female protagonists control Jack’s life, even when he thinks he is making his own decisions about his own freedom.
A perfect Little Book
The Smoking Room is a great little book in a variety of ways. A slim paperback of just over 70 pages, it is small enough to slide into a rucksack, jacket pocket or handbag, to take on a commute or holiday journey.
If you are an experienced reader, do not be discouraged from reading this book because it is a part of the Open Door series. The plot construction is superb, the characters are realistic and the settings are contemporary and recognisable. And the fantastic, shocking twist is there to spot, if you can find the clues in the text. This book is worth reading for its ending alone, and is heartily recommended. Well done, Julie Parsons.
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