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Member Name: karenuk
Room 13 - Robert Swindells
Date: 06/08/03, updated on 06/08/03 (830 review reads)
Advantages: a page turner in places, well written
Disadvantages: cliched, predictable
After recently reading two novels by Robert Swindells – Brother in the Land and Abomination – I felt I had become quite a fan, even if he is a children’s’ writer and I’m 33! So I bought another of his and borrowed two more from the library. This is my review of Room 13, a novel published in 1989 and the winner of the 1990 Children’s Book Award.
Room 13 is a horror or thriller type of book for children aged around ten to fourteen, I would say. At just over 150 pages long, it is easy to read and after a slightly hesitant start, I finished the last hundred pages or so in one sitting. The chapters are fairly short throughout, which means they don’t look too daunting for kids. Each one begins with a black and white illustration of a gate, each time featuring a different picture inside, which symbolises the content or theme of that chapter.
The story is based round Felicity ‘Fliss’ Morgan. The night before her year go on the annual school trip to Whitby, she has a terrifyingly vivid nightmare about a room with the number thirteen on it and what lies within. In the morning, she feels much better and sets out for Whitby as planned with the rest of the second year of the school, which is amusingly(?) called Bottomtop Middle!
As they reach their hotel in Whitby, the dream comes back to haunt Fliss as she sees familiar places and things, which remind her of aspects of her nightmare. She is allocated a room on the top floor, but thankfully there appears not to be a room numbered thirteen there.
However, on the first night, when she needs to go to the toilet around midnight, things change. The number thirteen appears on a door which is supposedly a cupboard, there are strange noises coming from within the room and one of the pupils – Ellie-May – becomes ill.
Fliss soon recruits her friend Lisa and two boys, Gary and Trot, to help her investigate what is happening. The
book follows their adventures over the few days they stay there, the mysteries of the night contrasting sharply with the usual paddling in the sea, sightseeing and shopping normally associated with school trips.
Although I don’t know Whitby personally, the descriptions seem authentic and it is easy to picture everything from the language used. Bizarrely, there is a note in the book, which explains the novel was inspired by a real school trip in 1987 and the novel is dedicated to all the pupils who were there. I suspect the true story might have been more captivating.
Overall, I found this novel disappointing. It was well paced and easy to get into. Parts of it were written in a way which meant it was hard to put down, but the whole thing seemed unbelievable and predictable. While it was cleverly constructed, it seemed just too formulaic at times. It felt like it could have been the novel of any old Hammer horror film towards the end.
Of course, these views are those of a cynical adult who has read countless novels and expects more from her reading material. Children will probably accept Room 13 more on face value and get more out of it. I intend to test this theory soon, by lending the book to my eleven-year-old son to read. He likes spooky stories and this one might fit the bill.
Swindells writes very well and describes the characters of the children reasonably convincingly. I did find some of the slang rather grating though – I mean, do kids really call each other ‘div’ these days and has anyone ever used the phrase ‘scared spitless’ [sic] in their lives? Maybe they did when the book was written in 1989, but it sounds strange now.
The teachers also seemed rather two-dimensional and often stereotypical. Would a teacher really get away with banging a child’s head against a coach seat for misbehaving? Or seeming rather unconcerned at an apparent assault by four pupils on one, which
resulted in severe bruising? I think not. Perhaps a child would revel in these things being seen from their viewpoint or maybe they’d be so caught up in the action, they wouldn’t notice these aberrations. But I did.
If your child has grown out of Enid Blyton and likes something a bit more eerie for their bedtime reading, Room 13 may provide you with a few hours of peace as they devour it under the covers. It may turn out to be the best book they’ve read to date.
For me, I found it an average kind of spooky story, written well in some respects but ultimately cliched and uninspiring. I recommend the author, but the jury’s out on the book.
ROOM 13 by Robert Swindells
Published by Corgi Yearling