Thursday, January 27, 2011

Book review - Got enough Room?

Title: Room
Author: Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Picador (Pan Macmillan)
Year of publication: 2010
Page extent: 300+

Once in a while, a book comes along that immerses you, making you feel both intrigued and disturbed by a world you think you'll never be able to understand, but can visualise perfectly. That book is Room by Emma Donoghue.

Room is where Jack lives with Ma. They don't go in or out of Room. The door is always locked. Their only visitor is Old Nick, who comes through Door at night to visit with Ma while Jack sleeps in Wardrobe, hidden from view. 

Jack has Ma's complete attention. They eat, play, exercise, sleep and watch TV together, just the two of them. Jack knows nothing of the world outside, having never left the eleven by eleven foot Room he knows as home. Early on in the novel, Jack turns five and Ma begins to reveal things about Outside, desperate to leave the prison she has been stuck in for the past seven years. Jack finds it hard to believe that things like people, lakes, houses, trees and aeroplanes exist, having believed that everything he saw on TV was pretend. To him, nothing outside of Room is real - Room is the centre of the universe and he and Ma (and Old Nick) are the only people who are Real. Convincing Jack that freedom is something they desperately need is a difficult task for Ma - how do you convince a child who has never left the room he was born in that there is a much better way to live?

Emma Donoghue takes a dismal situation and turns it on it's head by using Jack as the narrator. His curiosity and constant questions reveal the setting and the plot bit by bit as Jack processes the information Ma gives him with doubt and disbelief. Less a story about an horrific situation and more a story about the bond between a mother and son, Donoghue uses Jack's somewhat stunted grammar and infantile language to illustrate a world seen for the first time through the eyes of a completely innocent child. Routine things like walking with shoes on, going up and down stairs and having a shower are taxing, confusing tasks for Jack, and his brain is constantly whirring with questions, observations and initial refusal to try living life differently.

When I began reading room, I was a little bit ambivalent - the language alone was somewhat off-putting. But before I knew it, I was drawn into the world of Room. The minutia of Jack and Ma's everyday life is described in intense detail, while other aspects of life Jack doesn't understand are glossed over, which can be frustrating initially, as adult readers pick up on the serious undertones of the situation. Piece by piece the pace of life in Room picks up and moves forward to develop into a gripping story that leaves it mark on the reader. 

This is one book you definitely need to read - soon.

In a word: Intriguing
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Kiki Chaos said...

I picked up a free handout of the first 3 chapters (from those postcard stands) and it really sucked me in too, after I got over the strange language too. I really must get this and finish it.

Julia R said...

Kiki, yes, keep going with it! I found the language a bit frustrating at first, but I had to keep reminding myself it's a five year old's point of view. It's well worth the read, I think.