Saturday, October 9, 2010

Room by Emma Donoghue

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It's where he was born, where he and his Ma eat and play and learn. At night, Ma puts him safely to sleep in the wardrobe, in case Old Nick comes.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it's the prison where she's been held for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for her son. But Jack's curiosity is building alongside Ma's desperation -- and she knows Room cannot contain either indefinitely. ...

And here's what I thought:  I had read a lot about this book before our library's copy came in, and I knew I was probably going to have one of those experiences where I find that once I begin, I just can't put it down.  And I was right.  I started this book on the train and made myself put it away 2 stops before mine because I knew that otherwise, I'd never hear the announcement (and wind up at the end of the line). 

This was one of those stories where it was disturbing, and yet so intriguing that I couldn't stop reading.  It's like looking at an accident site -- it's awful, but you find you can't look away.   We experience everything in the book through Jack, who is five years old. His entire life has been spent in Room, a place he shares with his Ma (and which is visited at night by Old Nick).  He has never seen the outside world, so everything that he knows and experiences is in this room.   What this means is that what we learn about what is happening is Jack's perspective, for better or worse.   Jack doesn't always understand what is really happening, but as an adult reading this, I did.  And it was often very disturbing.    For example, part of their daily routine is to play "Scream Every Day but Saturday and Sunday," where both Jack and Ma stand as close to their open skylight as they can, and scream at the top of their lungs.  Jack is the only one who does not realize that this is not a game.  

 Jack's Ma shelters him from certain things, but the way that Jack describes them, it's obvious what's really going on.   Ma has created as normal a life as possible for Jack, and they have exercise, and storytelling, and a very close relationship.  However, now that Jack is 5, and time is passing, Ma is growing more and more concerned about what the reality of their situation is, and how they can possibly escape.  It's an interesting exploration of maternal dedication in this book, and also on the subject of survival; how much of something can you take before you break?  We only see Ma through Jack's eyes, but we actually learn a lot about her (again, because as an adult reading this book, we can interpret what it is that he's actually describing).

I'm not giving any spoilers here (or at least, I'm trying not to).   I thought this was a really thought-provoking book, and well-written.   It was unlike anything else I've read, although one of my favorite books, Slammerkin, is by this author.   Emma Donoghue has a way of writing that is richly descriptive, but not overwrought.  In fact, I'd say that her writing is somewhat deceptive; it seems somewhat simple and then you realize how heavy it all is.   This is one of the few books that I've gotten from the library that I'd like to buy for myself, so I can re-read it again from time to time.  I've tried to keep my review here relatively simple, but if you'd like to know more, there's a wonderful post over on the Book Smugglers   and the review in the New York Times   
Cover art:  I've seen two covers for this one, one with the word "Room" on a white background, which looks like it's written in crayon, and the other, showing what looks like a shed, with a blue background.  Both are pretty simple, almost deceptively so, considering the story.

First line:  (actually, I'm cheating a little, since the first line is so short):  "Today, I'm five.  I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I'm changed to five, abracadanra.  Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero."


Teacher/Learner said...

I must read this soon! Everyone is blogging about it. Eerily good timing considering Jaycee Dugard has been free for a year and is releasing a memoir soon.

Anonymous said...

From the cover art, this is not a book I would pick up.

From your review, I think I need to get this book!!!

I like creepy, I like it when the reader can figure out what's going on but the character doesn't know. I like desperate and dangerous situations. i like things with a sense of unease.

but not too much unease. I'm watching "Silent Hill" on TV right now, that's too much creepy, too much desperation and danger, too much unease!!

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