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Friday, December 17th 2010

11:18 PM

Room by Emma Donoghue


By Emma Donoghue

I’m sure many of you have heard the buzz about this book by now, and all I can say after reading it is, “Wow!”  As an editor, this is the one that makes you swoon, the one you know is going to be a NYT bestseller, the one destine to become a classic.  This is groundbreaking stuff, sure to become required reading for English Lit classes everywhere.  A strong statement, I know, but I’ll stand by it in years to come.  Promise.

Usually after I finish a book, I start another one within a few hours—I always  have a book going.  However, with Emma Donoghue’s Room, I found I couldn’t do that because there was just too much to think about.  It’s been about forty-eight hours now, and I still can’t move on, I simply cannot get it out of my head, and I don’t want another story tarnishing my thoughts about this one.  Yes, it’s that good and that thought provoking.

That being said, I’m afraid I can’t tell you too much about this book, as I don’t want to take anything away from your reading experience.  Here’s what I can safely tell you.  The story is told by Jack, a five-year-old boy who has lived in a twelve-by-twelve room his entire life.  He’s never stepped outside, and his only view of outside is a skylight.  His Ma lives with him, and she has been in the room for seven years.  She was abducted when she was a nineteen-year-old college student, and her captor, Old Nick, pays her regular visits.  Jack is always “asleep” in the wardrobe when Old Nick visits, so while there is definitely a creep factor, the author has chosen to minimize it by keeping us in Jack’s point of view.

At the beginning of the book, Jack has no idea that there is a whole world outside their room.  The room is his reality, and he believes that what he sees on TV is  pretend.  Ma has done an admirable job of making their life seem normal to him, and he has no idea he’s missing out on anything.  Old Nick brings them their food and other basic necessities, and they are allowed to ask for one special thing per week—their “Sunday treat.”  Oftentimes, that “treat” has to be medicine or some other boring necessity.  Once in a while, they can ask for something totally indulgent, like chocolates.

Now that Jack is five, however, he’s starting to ask more and more questions, and it’s getting harder to keep him pretending.  He’s quite an intelligent kid, and things are definitely not adding up.  Finally, after one such round of questioning, the following exchange takes place between Jack and Ma:

“‘Listen.  What we see on TV is…it’s pictures of real things.’

That’s the most astonishing I ever heard.

Ma’s got her hand over her mouth.

‘Dora’s real for real?’

She takes her hand away. ‘No, sorry.  Lots of TV is made-up pictures—like, Dora’s just a drawing—but the other people, the ones with faces that look like you and me, they’re real.’

‘Actual humans?’

She nods.  ‘And the places are real too, like farms and forests and airplanes and cities…’

‘Nah.’ Why is she tricking me?  ‘Where would they fit?’”

Where will conversations such as this lead?  You’ll need to read this unique book to find out. 

With the story being told from Jack’s perspective, we get to experience first hand the world unfolding around him.  And even though we only see Ma through his eyes, we get a strong sense of her cabin fever.  Imagine this:  Jack has five books, and they read a couple of them every day.  Any parent can tell war stories about how their child wanted the same book read over and over to them every night until the obsession thankfully passed.  Well, for Ma there is no obsessive phase to be gotten through, and we see her frustration when Jack doesn’t understand why Ma complains about reading Dylan the Digger yet again.

Ma has made the room so comfortable and as homey as possible for Jack that it’s sometimes difficult to remember that Jack’s secure little world, his entire life, is a living hell for Ma.  The contrast is what makes it so interesting, and while we do get to see a loving and devoted mother, we can also sympathize with the horror of her situation.

As promised, I’m not going to tell you any more about the direction of this book.  Suffice it to say that the intrigue of it all will keep you turning the pages; though, oddly enough, I found myself not turning them very quickly.  In fact, quite to the contrary, I often stopped to ponder their situation.  I wanted to take it slow and, for once, I did not want to rush to get to the end.  Though I did want to know the outcome, I wanted to take the slow road there and savor every poignant, humorous or thought-provoking moment.   

So, while I am sad that it’s over for me, I have to admit that I’m enjoying spreading the word about this one—I’m telling every reader I know to add it to their Christmas list.  I would bet money on this one being “The Help” of 2011.  I predict that every book group is going to pick it eventually, and everyone is going to be talking about what an interesting commentary it is on the excesses of our society.  Among other things, that is, as there is much to talk about here.  In fact, I’m quite anxious to find someone else who’s read Room so we can discuss at length all the things I can’t tell you about in this review.  So, hurry up and go get it, and let the discussions begin!   

Bonnie Crisalli

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