Room by Emma Donoghue
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.
I read this for one of my book clubs at work. And when asked by others if I liked it, I (still) cringe at the use of that word. How can you “like” something when the subject matter is just so distressing? I can’t even rate it on Goodreads. It was such an uncomfortable read cause not only was it told from Jack’s point of view, but all I wanted to do is yell at the kid! Why? Cause he didn’t know better. He didn’t know there was a better life outside his world of Room. But then again, it wasn’t his fault. So the thing that I’m grappling with is this: would I have been just as uncomfortable if it was written from Ma’s point of view? Is it such a good or great read because of the subject matter? This was clearly based on the recent Fritzl case, and just the mere idea that someone could go through such an ordeal makes me scared and sick at the same time.
As for the story, the first part was slow and horrifying. But it’s understandable. We have to know what happens in Room. We have to find out about Sunday treats. And how Jack counts the sound of the creaks in the bed when Old Nick comes at night. And that Jack still breastfeeds. But we also find out how Ma tries to keep Jack fit and healthy with the little means she has. he controls how much TV he watched. And how she has them scream every day as loud as they can, hoping someone can hear them.
And the second part of the story is Jack in the Outside and how he, his Ma, and her family deals with it. For Jack, the Outside is no fun. He wants to go back to Room. Ma is depressed because she is finally free but all her son wants to do with his freedom is go back to where he came from. As I was reading this half of the story, I had three different ideas as to how it would end, and it actually didn’t end in either of those ways. Considering how hard of a time I was having reading this, I guess I had such pessimistic ideas. But, like Jack, can you blame me?
Because of the critical theory articles and books that I’ve been reading, a lot having to do with what makes us human and normal, and what is self, this book would be excellent fodder for philosophers and psychologists and academics. Instead of getting stories of children being raised in the wild by wolves, we get stories of a child being raised in a confined space. What are the psychological repercussions? Drastic, but different for each case, definitely. I mean, we see Old Nick as the monster. Jack just sees him as a fact of life, a fact of Room. It is what it is.
One of the things that bugged me, as I think about it, is the fact that this is written from five-year-old Jack’s point of view and when I look at the words, I feel like there is something wrong: Jack knows the words to songs, knows how to read (sort of, as they only have a handful of books in Room), watches TV almost everyday…but the way he describes stuff seem awkward. I don’t have a copy of the book with me (I originally it borrowed from a coworker) to show any specific examples. It’s as if my suspension of disbelief was not there and I couldn’t picture a five-year-old talking or writing like this. It’s a hard thing to so in the first place, to write from any five-year-old’s point of view. I mean, do you remember your train of thought when you were five? I guess I can’t fully explain myself as to what I’m trying to get at here in this paragraph, so I’ll just stop.
Not sure what else to say about this. I guess whoever reads it will have something to say about it, be it positive or negative. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it my book club’s discussion of this at the last minute due to an author lunch. But I am curious to know what other people think of it.