October 5, 2010
Room by Emma Donoghue
2010 Little, Brown
Rating: 5/5 (Brilliant!)
A five-year-old boy—who's lived his whole life in a single room—narrates this riveting story of the power of a mother's love.
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...
Told in the inventive, funny, and poignant voice of Jack, Room is a powerful story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible.
My husband and I were discussing this book a few nights ago and I came to the conclusion that I really enjoy a narrative told from a child's point-of-view. I love their take on the world; their naïvé outlook on how things operate (and how those around them get along). I remember having this same reaction after reading Patricia Wood's Lottery. Jack reminded me of Wood's Perry, who, as he's quick to remind you, is definitely not retarded. One has to have an IQ of less than 75 to be retarded and his IQ is 76. Definitely not retarded. Just slow. There's something about a child's (or a child-like) view of the world to make one truly appreciate life and its blessings. Maybe it's just their lack of filter.
As I talk to other readers about this extraordinary book, I find that some are resistant to reading a story about an abduction, worried that it will be too distressing, violent or exploitative. And yet Donoghue does a remarkable job telling a tale of a young girl held in captivity (for seven years!) with her small child (conceived by the man holding them captive) without resorting to gratuitous details of each and every encounter with "Old Nick." His presence is felt and observed, but the abduction is more of a backdrop to this story about a mother and son's love for one another, and that love ultimately overshadows the darkness of the kidnapping and confinement.
Did I mention how much I love Jack? Oh, my. What a remarkable little boy! His mother not only taught him math and how to read, but knew the importance of a healthy diet and exercise, in spite of her obvious limitations. Jack may seem a bit precocious, but I loved him nonetheless. And, I have to keep reminding myself he doesn't really exist. I don't need to worry about him anymore. I don't need to wait for a sequel to see how he and his ma are doing.
Jack on Reality:
Outside has everything. Whenever I think of a thing now like skis or fireworks or islands or elevators or yoyos, I have to remember they're real, they're actually happening in Outside all together. It makes my head tired. And people, too, firefighters teachers burglars babies saints soccer players and all sorts, they're all really in Outside. I'm not there, though, me and Ma, we're the only ones not there. Are we still real?
The sea's real, I'm just remembering. It's all real in Outside, everything there is, because I saw the airplane in the blue between the clouds. Ma and me can't go there because we don't know the secret code, but it's real all the same.
On the Outside:
I'm learning lots more manners. When something tastes yucky we say it's interesting, like wild rice that bites like it hasn't been cooked. When I blow my nose I fold the tissue so nobody sees the snot, it's a secret. If I want Ma to listen to me and not some person else I say, "Excuse me," sometimes I say, "Excuse me, Excuse me," for ages, then when she asks what is it I don't remember anymore.
"Let's go onto the grass." She pulls me a little bit.
I'm squishing the green spikes under my shoes. I bend down and rub, it doesn't cut my fingers.
In the parking he puts out his hand beside him like I'm meant to hold it. Then he puts it down again.
Something falls on my face and I shout.
"Just a speck of rain," says Paul.
I stare up at the sky, it's gray. "Is it going to fall on us?"
It's quiet when she's gone, except there's squeaky sounds in the trees, I think it's birds but I don't see. The wind makes the leaves go swishy swishy. I hear a kid shout, maybe in another yard behind the big hedge or else he's invisible. God's yellow face has a cloud on top. Colder suddenly. The world is always changing brightness and hotness and soundness, I never know how it's going to be the next minute. The cloud looks kind of gray blue, I wonder has it got rain inside it. If rain starts dropping on me I'll run in the house before it drowns my skin.
On adult wisdom:
My fingers are scuba divers. The soap falls in the water and I play it's a shark. Grandma comes in with a stripey thing on like underwear and T-shirt stuck together with beads, also a plastic bag on her head she says is called a shower cap even though we're having a bath. I don't laugh at her, only inside.
When she climbs in the bath the water gets higher, I get in too and it's nearly spilling. She's at the smooth end, Ma always sat at the faucet end. I make sure I don't touch Grandma's legs with my legs. I bang my head on a faucet.
Why do persons only say that after the hurt?
On stress and parenthood:
In the world I notice persons are nearly always stressed and have no time. Even Grandma often says that, but she and Steppa don't have jobs, so I don't know how persons with jobs do the jobs and all the living as well. In Room me and Ma had time for everything. I guess the time gets spread very thin like butter over all the world, the roads and houses and playgrounds and stores, so there's only a little smear of time on each plate, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit.
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 take a photo, but they don't want to actually 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.
Can I just tell you that this does not end badly? I hate spoilers, but I'm afraid many will shy away from this extraordinary tale simply because they don't want to read something sad and upsetting.
You can read this book. I hope you will read this book.
The Holocaust was sad and upsetting (to say the least). But The Book Thief was one of the best books I have ever read.
Room is one of the best books I have ever read.
Riveting. Tender and powerful at the same time, yet not depressing or maudlin.
This is a book I want to discuss with my book club.
This is a book I want to discuss with my "regulars" at the store.
This is a book I want you to read.
I don't know if reading it will make you a better human being...or more aware of those around you. But it will touch your heart. And it will make you thankful for what you have. For what you may take for granted.
The companionship of others.
This is an unpredictable, yet utterly plausible story.
Excellent sense of place.
Excellent narrative voice.
An original story.
This may very well be the best book I've read all year. Maybe even the best book I've read since Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief. Amazing story-telling. Amazing dialogue. Amazing characters. I can't stop thinking about Jack & Ma. What a fabulous novel!! Shortlisted for this year's Man Booker Prize, it so deserves the honor. I guess we'll have to wait until the 12th to see...
Go here to hear the author discuss and read from Room on NPR.
Final thoughts: Read this book.