Emma Donoghue’s Room was a major topic of the first lecture of the University of Denver Publishing Institute I attended this summer. Said institute was the main impetus behind me starting this blog (and continues to be a major reason why I stick with it), so I felt it very crucial that I read Room. Unfortunately, my hometown, where I lived post-Denver until last month, is full of readers, and so Room was constantly unavailable at my local library. Luckily, I now live in a tiny yet wealthy suburb (!), meaning it has a fantastic library. So—to make a long and utterly unnecessary story shorter but still pretty much unnecessary—I got my hands on a copy of Room.
And read it in one sitting.
Returning readers may remember that I did the same thing earlier this month with Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, but I don’t actually do this often. Post-move means I have no friends, new job means I have no energy, and the result is that I spend most weekends lying on the couch reading.
Also, Room was pretty good.
The narrator of Room is Jack, who is five years old. Jack lives in Room with Ma; also with Bed, Duvet, Table, TV, Meltedy Spoon, College Ruled Pad, and plenty of other inanimate characters. Jack loves Room, and loves Ma, and loves all those other things. He doesn’t love Old Nick, who comes at night.
I approached this book already knowing its basic plot premise—Ma was abducted by Old Nick and she and Jack are prisoners in Room. (Sorry for the spoiler.) While I don’t imagine it would be too hard to figure out, I think it’s definitely not immediately apparent. (Sorry for the awkward sentence structure.) Not only is Jack a small child, with thoughts and feelings somewhat unfamiliar to the adult reader (although his vocabulary and grasp of grammar is prodigious), but he also has spent his entire life in Room. His understanding and perception of the world have definite physical barriers; specifically, a 11′ x 11′ revamped tool shack. He sees people, streets, schools, etc. on TV, but understands those to be “only TV,” not real like him and Ma.
This book is emotionally hard to read not only for the plot topic, but for the characters. As I said, Jack is happy in Room—when Ma tentatively begins to talk of her life outside and the possibility of escape, he rebels. Also, Ma and Jack’s relationship is one of the most beautiful parent-child relationships I’ve ever come across in literature. You love both of these characters and, as the plot unfolds, have a huge amount of admiration for Ma for raising such an incredible child on pure love in such an environment. You find yourself starting to think that their interactions would not be as perfect or precious in the outside world… It’s disturbing.
I can see why this book has caused such a stir in the reading community. It’s a wonderful story, slowly moving from an isolated, almost fantasy world into the real and somehow far grittier one that we know. I give it my recommendations.