Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue


Written by: Emma Donoghue

Published: 2010

Synopsis:  To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough...not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

So the other week Laura made me feel guilty because I've been using my library to borrow TV series and not books, and since I had a list from Alice of awesome lesbian lit I decided to merge the two and borrow some awesome lesbian lit from my library. But when I got up there and went to find Kissing the Witch, the only Emma Donoghue book they had was Room – and I've heard enough decent things that I was like “welp, why the heck not”. So I borrowed it, along with some others, and then I read it. And it was good. Also, LOOK LAURA, I USED A LIBRARY PROPERLY.

So it seems like the majority of books I read and review at the moment can’t be discussed in any real way without giving something away, and like all the other books, I’d hate to spoil anything about Room for you. So let's keep this vague shall we, and maybe, maybe, there'll be a couple of teeny spoilers. Room, a lot like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, is told through the eyes of a young narrator. In this case it's 5 year old Jack, an absolutely adorable and precocious kid who has spent his entire life locked up with his mum in an 11 x 11 foot room. For Jack Room is everything, it's his entire world- quite literally. He loves every item, from the rug that he was born on, to the spider web under the table. Unlike Jack though, ma sees the room for what it is, a prison. Seven years earlier ma was taken on her way to college, and has been stuck in this room every since.

Because the book is narrated by Jack, we only see glimpses of ma's turmoil and frustration. It's pretty clear that they're being held captive from the get go, but ma seems to do an amazing job of creating a normal world for her son. They have their 3 meals, their fitness time, bath-time, they play with toys and have craft projects and watch TV. But every now and then something creeps in that reminds you that this isn't a normal situation, like Jack sleeping in the wardrobe until Old Jack leaves each night, or ma being 'gone' - which is when she spends the entire day in bed almost catatonic with depression. As the book continues ma seems to be less OK with raising her son in a tiny room, and she begins to look for a way out. But aside from the difficulty of escaping a shed that's been fortified like Fort Knox, ma has to deal with little Jack, a kid who has no understanding of an outside or any desire to explore it. For all he knows and cares, Room is the world, and what kid wants to escape something like that?

Room does a fascinating job of looking into the life of a captive. And by writing it from the view of a child who has known nothing else, it muddies up the water and makes things even more complicated. If it were from the mother's perspective we'd be rooting for her success in escaping, but with Jack there's a little hesitance. How will he deal with the world outside? And not just in a 'he never even knew a world existed outside Room' kind of way, but in terms of disease and communication and social cues. Is he young enough that he can adapt, or has he been through too much trauma in his young life? I mean, *clearly* it'd still be better for him not to grow up and die in this tiny room, but it's not as simple as simply living outside either y'know.

As integral as the child narrator is to the thesis of the story, one that's about family, survival and adaptation and not simply a depressing tale which wallows in sadness which probably would have happened if we had it from ma's perspective, that doesn't make it an easy read. 320+ pages are a long time to be reading a child's thought patterns and syntax and when I started I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to keep it up. It wore thin from time to time, and it wasn't always maintained by Donoghue but I think it was a brave and difficult choice to make, and in this case, the right one. And while I didn't always love it, I liked it a lot and there were some remarkably insightful gems hidden in Jack's narrations, things like;
If Room isn't our home, does that mean we don't have one?
 In Room I was safe and outside is scary
And a bunch more but I was lazy and didn't take notes and now I can't find them.

I loved the way this book ended, it isn't a happy or sad ending or even much of a resolution at all, it felt more like the end of a chapter than the end of a book, and it felt right. There are so many complexities to Jack and ma's situation that anything too tied up or resolved would have felt like a cop-out, so props to Ms Donoghue for not taking the easy way out. And extra props for writing a story from the perspective of a child that didn't make me want to shoot myself or throw up (kids, amirite?), and more again for delivering a unique and fascinating book. So if you're keeping tally that's basically infinite props to Emma Donoghue and I'm super psyched to get my hands on her other books now.


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