Room is one of the few books I've read where I immediately finished and emailed my mom and sister, saying they needed to read the novel. Unfortunately, they didn't enjoy it as much as I did, but that didn't diminish my enthusiasm for Room's inventive conceit and narrative.
Even though Astray is a collection of short stories, in many ways it's a far more conventional novel than Room. The stories take place in America and Europe, primarily in the 19th and 20th century. Each story is based on some real snippet of an event or person in history. I typically complain about short stories collections with no theme, but, surprisingly, even though most of Astray's stories were previously published, they are all unified by characters gone "astray" or adrift in some manner.
Nonetheless, I just couldn't work up any enthusiasm for the stories. Some held mild interest, but few created much tension or characterization. And though typically I appreciate quiet inner characterization, the characters' feelings and responses were far too expected, even cliche.
Donoghue ends each story with a brief explanation of her source material. I thought I'd like the historical background, but somehow it cheapened the stories a bit for me. Same goes for the afterword, in which Donoghue explains the connecting threads between each story. It just felt like a creative writing class portfolio--I don't want the meaning explained to me!
So, a disappointment, especially next to Room.