There is only one way to describe this book: devastatingly great. Unputdownable (is that a word?). It’s so good that I read it in line at the grocery store. Sriously. It’s THAT good!
Room is about a five-year-old boy, Jack, (written from his perspective, in fact) who has lived his entire life locked with his mother in a garden shed after her abduction seven years earlier by a stranger. If you can, read further. It’s THAT good.
Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, the mother (“Ma” – we never learn her real name) has created a life for her son. She has kept herself sane by devoting all her energy to giving Jack as normal an upbringing as possible.
Their average day in “Room” (their 12ft-by-12ft space) is filled with “Phys Ed”, rhyming games, cooking lessons, and model-making. They do have a television and a handful of books. Although the television is used for education and distraction (in very limited quantities, I might add), Jack has no idea that anything at all exists outside “Room”.
“Room” is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she’s been held for seven years.
It’s startling how different Jack is, as a result. For instance, all the items in the room (Rug, Table, Door, Bed, etc.) are capitalized because in his world, there is only one of each in the world, so they are proper nouns. And his eyesight hasn’t properly developed, especially not depth perception, because he’s never had to focus further away than eleven feet. Astounding.
I had the great fortune to see Emma Donoghue at yet another book mecca, Book Passages, just over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Ms. Donoghue describes the story as an everyday mother and child in disguise. When I first heard this, I nearly fell out of my chair. However, there ARE many everyday occurrences in the book. It is a growing up story. Everyone does indeed start in a very small place. Then, life gradually gets bigger. For Jack, the bigger part comes overnight.
Ms. Donoghue described the obvious paradox in the book: Jack is Ma’s burden, but he is her reason for getting up. Ma thinks of herself as a mother rather than a captive or sex slave. Talk about a tale of the ultimate survival.
During the Q&A period, someone asked about where Jack is on the trajectory of development. When reading the book, it is easy to assume that Jack is delayed. However, Ms. Donoghue explained that when we listen to a 5 year-old, we translate the language to be what we want it to be (i.e., grammatically correct). We aren’t used to seeing a child’s speech in written words, therefore Jack sounds young. But he is actually advanced. Pretty genius.
The content in this book is certainly a tough subject, often painful to read. But without diluting the horror one bit, Donoghue has made it approachable in a really, really weird and brilliant way. I wondered (especially when I couldn’t put it down) how I could be drawn to such a book.
Well, as you may recall, I love a good book cover. In fact, I often judge a book by its cover. Goes against conventional wisdom and thought, I know…I know. However, the cover of this book is a perfect reflection of what lies within. Despite its horrors, Room is a gentle story, full of love and affirmation. It is a celebration of devoted motherhood and the strength of the human spirit (Silver Lining).
You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.