Friday, November 26, 2010

Room - Emma Donoghue

Also reviewed by Heather.

Summary:  To five-year-old Jack, Room is the world. It’s where he was born, it’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose on Jack’s imagination—the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells, the imaginary world projected through the TV, the coziness of Wardrobe below Ma’s clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night in case Old Nick comes.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held since she was nineteen—for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven-by-eleven foot space. But Jack’s curiosity is building alongside her own desperation—and she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer.

Told in the poignant and funny voice of Jack, Room is a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child. It is a shocking, exhilarating, and riveting novel—but always deeply human and always moving. Room is a place you will never forget.  ( Summary from book - Image from indiebound.org )

My Review: The man said his dog was sick. She only wanted to help. Seven years later she is trapped, imprisoned in an inescapable shed with her five year old son. Her story would be a frightening thing, but Room is not her story. It is the story of her son, Jack, fathered by a rapist and born into horrid captivity.

I realized, after only a few sentences, that Room wouldn’t be like most books I have read, because Room is narrated by five-year-old Jack.  His observations of the world inside Room are at times funny, insightful, or troubling. He tells of the spider that lives under Table, his love for Dora the Explorer on TV, the unruly Tooth that bothers Ma and makes her take killers, and his paralyzing fear of the ogre, Old Nick, who comes in the night while he is tucked away in Wardrobe. This unique voice and creative literary style makes it easy to slip into Jack’s world and see Room, and eventually Outside, through his eyes.

“We stand beside Table and look up, there’s the most hugest round silver face of God. So bright, shining all of Room the faucets and Mirror and the pots and Door and Ma’s cheeks even. “You know,” she whispers, “sometimes the moon is a semicircle, and sometimes a crescent, and sometimes just a little curve like a fingernail clipping.” “Nah.” Only in TV.
Jack’s relationship with his mother is central to the story. She tries to protect him—to make life as normal as possible in such an insular setting—and through it all, Jack maintains all the innocence, curiosity, and stubbornness common in children his age. It is this innocence perspective, which allows the reader to see and understand some of the darker aspects of this book, such as Old Nick’s nightly visits, even when Jack does not.

I appreciated the author’s ability to say very little, through Jack, and still speak volumes. A simple word or phrase let me not only feel his emotions, but to see and understand those of his mother. As Jack describes the clench of his mother’s jaw, the extra painkiller, or a particularly vacant expression, I could easily perceive her feelings and motivations without hearing from her directly.

As Jack’s curiosity grows and Old Nick’s behavior becomes increasingly volatile, his mother knows they must somehow escape. Her plan is extremely perilous and the repercussions are far-reaching. Room is her prison, but it is Jack’s home. It is all that he has ever known and the prospect of life on the outside is daunting, to say the least. Soon, Jack is torn between love for his mother, fear of the Outside, and a desire to be in a place he feels safe.

The only downside to Donoghue’s childlike narration was that it is the literal equivalent of having a five-year-old chattering in your ears while you read. I already have several young children, and it was mentally exhausting to have to live in Jack’s mind while the book was open, and experience theirs when it closed.

When this book finally comes full circle, I was brought to tears by an ending that offered tender, yet bittersweet, closure. Donoghue’s depiction of escape and recovery from a truly harrowing experience may not be your traditional suspense novel, but it simmers with tension, nonetheless, and the result is an unforgettable experience.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars   For the sensitive reader: While this book did contain some darker subject matter, Jack’s point of view remained fairly innocent. I appreciated that the author found a way to be shocking and emotionally evocative without being graphic or vulgar.

Sum it up: Room is everything it promises to be (shocking, exhilarating, riveting) and so much more. It is a beautifully written, achingly innocent view of a ferocious love, a Room that should never exist, and the possibility of life on the Outside.

1 comment:

martine said...

Hi, Have read several good review of this book and am very intrigued. I know what you mean about books narrated by children; I tried reading Roddy Doyle's 'Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha' many years ago, it is narrated by a ten year old boy and it was far too close to home as I had a small boy at the time who liked to tell me very thought that entered his head so it was all too much and I gave up.
thanks for sharing
martine

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