Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Room by Emma Donoghue
Reasons for reading: I've loved her other books, sounded intriguing
Description: "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.
Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, ROOM is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another."
My thoughts: I actually remembered about this book when a patron asked me about it - she knew the author and knew it was about kidnapping. I was able to Google it and vaguely recall hearing about it. When I read the description, I was fascinated. Plus, I already knew I was a Donoghue fan, although I've only read her historical fiction, so I wasn't sure whether this would be my cup of tea.
Well, I don't know if this subject is anyone's "cup of tea" but I could NOT put it down. I started reading it before bed one night (even though I knew I shouldn't) and was up til 1:40am before I could force myself to turn off the light. I finished it the next day.
I don't want to give any spoilers, so I can't tell you much. But the narrator is 5-year-old Jack, who has lived his entire life with his Ma in an 11x11 room. He has never spoken to another human being, he has only ever glimpsed one other human being, their captor. When he was tiny, Ma explained that their life in Room was real and everything on TV was fake. But once Jack turns 5, she knows they can't keep living like that.
Jack is extraordinary but also an ordinary little boy. He has an amazing vocabulary and math skills, because Ma has basically spent every moment of his life teaching him. But he thinks Dora the Explorer, Rug, and Meltedy Spoon are his friends. He thinks the tiny bit of sun he can see through the skylight is God's yellow face. He has no idea what it's like to own as many books, toys or clothes as you can afford, he's never tasted many foods or been to a playground. He loves his Ma with his entire being, yet gets mad at her when she can't give him what he wants, like all kids do. Normally I don't like child narrators, because I find authors make them way too precocious or saintly or wise and have clearly never interacted with an actual child. But Donoghue clearly remembers what it was like when her kids were five and has managed to make Jack believable while still being the product of completely unusual circumstances.
And while it's heartbreaking to read, Donoghue doesn't pull any crappy tricks like making everything okay once they escape. Sometimes it's even harder to be out in the world than it is to be in Room, it certainly is for Jack, who is away from everything he's ever known and being bombarded with new, well, everything every moment of the day.
Donoghue's writing is amazing, but this paragraph struck me, because I had just been speaking to a friend about how true this is in today's society. Imagine if you were a boy who had spent his entire life with undivided parental attention (obviously not feasible outside of Room, I know!) and you saw how many parents in the outside world treat their kids (he observes this right after they've been to the library for the first time, maybe that's why it struck me, I see it every day):
Also everywhere I'm looking at kids, adults mostly don't seem to like them, not even the parents do. They call the kids gorgeous and so cute, they make the kids do the thing all over again so they can take a photo, but they don't actually want to play with them, they'd rather drink coffee talking to other adults. Sometimes there's a small kid crying and the Ma of it doesn't even hear.
That shows you Jack's voice and also that maybe we need to take a few hints from a small person who's seeing the world for the first time!
The reviews for Room use words like remarkable, flawless, original, and absorbing and they're all right. I agree with this one: "But be warned: once you enter, you'll be Donoghue's willing prisoner right down to the last page." (Newsweek Malcolm Jones )"