I’m still working through the amazing and extensive list of reading suggestions left on this post from ages ago from you all. “Room” by Emma Donoghue was one of them–and I love this book.
It’s also been at least a decade since I posted my last book review, so: the jig’s up. Let’s read!
The subject matter of this book is quite dark: a 19-year-old woman is kidnapped from her college campus as she heads to the library, and is taken by force to a sound-proof shed in a man’s back yard. She tries to escape through the skylight (but the glass is unbreakable), by digging through the floor (but there’s a chain link fence underneath) and by attacking her captor when she hears the ‘beep’ indicating he’s entering the security code–but nothing works. She is imprisoned there for 7 years, and a couple years into her captivity, gives birth to a son on the rug: Jack, the narrator of this story.
When the story begins, five-year-old Jack is living in what he calls “Room,” not knowing that there is anything outside the cork-tiled 11 by 11 foot space he and his mother share. They are together constantly, his Ma teaching him how to read, engaging him in “Phys Ed” to keep him active and moving, and a plethora of imaginative games. There are 5 books that they read over and over again, and Jack loves watching “Dora the Explorer” on their TV. Once a week, their captor “Old Nick” brings them some groceries and what Jack knows as “Sundaytreat,” which could be a piece of chocolate, a pair of jeans, or a bottle of pain-killers for his Ma, whose teeth are rotting and causing her daily pain.
His Ma protects him fiercely. Every night when Old Nick comes, she hides Jack in the wardrobe. Old Nick knows that Jack is there but has never seen his face, and even though Jack can hear him, he wonders just how real Old Nick is. In fact, the boundaries between imagination and reality are a huge theme in this book: Jack sees things on TV, but thinks they are pretend. Reality for him is the stain on the rug where he was born, or the lollipop he gets for Sundaytreat. Jack personalizes everything and has relationships with the scant objects in the room like his favorite “meltedy spoon.”
I was a little more than nervous going in to this book. I can’t read or watch anything too violent or dark, because images get stuck in my head and stay with me for so long. I tried to read “The Lovely Bones” but couldn’t do it even though it was very well written (and still have a horrible imprint of the first few pages in my brain) ; I couldn’t do “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series even though it was also very well written and engaging. But this book, I devoured with no reservations. The facts presented are dark and disturbing–there’s not getting around that–but seeing it from the naive eyes of a 5 year old makes this book a fresh, lively, and frequently funny read.
I was also wondering during the first few pages if this unique child’s point of view would get tiresome as the story progressed. But it doesn’t! You are able to interpret what’s really happening even when Jack doesn’t, and the added perspective of his adds a charm and a beauty that make the book uplifting and wonderful. Unbelievably, this book is tender and endearing and lifted my mood when I picked it up.
I won’t tell you what happens–and it had me on the edge of my seat–but ultimately it’s not a downer. Promise. Pick this up, and hopefully you’ll love it like I did.