Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (September 13, 2010)
My Rating: 4.5 stars (Make Time For This One)
I’m sure that somewhere in your home you have a room that measures about 10×10 or 11×11. I want you to imagine this room. Now take out all the windows (but you can have one little skylight). Put a locked door on it that cannot be open from the inside. Soundproof it. Strip it down to only the bare essentials: a bed, a hotplate, a wardrobe, a table, two chairs, a rug, a bath, a rocker. You can a TV, a few books, a few games. Get comfy. You’re going to be spending quite a bit of time here. About seven years in fact.
The first few years you’ll be alone except for some nightly visits from the person who has put you in this room. (Let’s call him Old Nick.) Eventually these nightly visits will result in the birth of a child. Your child. Let’s call him Jack. Let’s call you Ma. You now have a baby in a windowless locked room. You have to raise this child by yourself, while protecting him, as much as possible, from Old Nick. How would you do it? How would you keep yourself from going insane? How would you provide Jack with as “normal” a life as possible, considering that the only world he has ever known is this room? And, what do you think would happen if someday, someday, you managed to get out of the room?
I believe Emma Donoghue must have went through a thought process like the one I posed to you above, and the results can be found in her brilliantly disturbing yet heartbreakingly beautiful novel ROOM. And, in a genius twist, Donoghue chose to write the novel from the point-of-view of Jack—and this makes all the difference.
By writing from 5-year-old Jack’s point-of-view, we are spared the unbearable horror of Ma’s experience. Instead of being a torture chamber, Room becomes not such a bad place after all. Oh sure, the things Outside that Jack sees on TV seem kind of cool, but they are just pretend. (After all, in Room Jack doesn’t feel wind or see clouds or dogs or other children or animals or dirt.) But Room has plenty to keep Jack busy—from Egg Snake under the bed to Phys Ed time to a seemingly endless variation of word games that Ma has invented. And there is Sundaytreat, which might sometimes even result in chocolate! And most of all, there is Ma. What child doesn’t want a mother who is always present, attentive and creative? In Jack’s view, Room is a cozy little world of two. Of course, Ma is Gone sometimes, but she always comes back eventually. And yes, Old Nick makes those nightly visits and all kinds of weird creaking sounds, but Jack just hides in the wardrobe. (Ma doesn’t like Old Nick to see Jack.)
Room is Jack’s whole world. It is all he’s ever known, and he doesn’t really need anything else. So when Ma suddenly starts “Unlying” and talking about Outside and how they might get there, you can imagine that Jack might not be all that excited. It is a lot for a 5-year-old to take in. It is like someone told you were going to go live on the moon, away from everyone who loves you. Could you go? What would happen if you made it? What would happen to your world?
I cannot even tell you how brilliant and engrossing this book is and how riveted I was by Jack’s world and, behind it, the darker shadow world that Ma lived in. In some ways, ROOM reminded of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go—in that the protagonists live an almost dream-like existence in a nightmare world, protected and sheltered from the reality of their situation by their innocence and ignorance. Although we see Jack’s story unfold in the book, within it and behind it we come to know Ma’s story too, which is as horrific and nightmarish as anything I can imagine. Yet by not telling the story from Ma’s point of view, Donoghue elevates ROOM to something magical and special and amazing. Yes, this book will disturb you, but it will also uplift you and show you how good can grow from evil, that love can save you, and that what is broken can be put back together again. Read it.
The Whys and Wheres: I bought this book with my birthday gift certificate after reading about it everywhere. It sounded so intriguing, I just had to read it.
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