Thursday, May 2, 2013

What I'm Reading: Room by Emma Donoghue

First, let me say I am so excited to have stuck to my 1 book a month goal (though I overlapped in April. Carving out time to read has added to my relaxation, inspired me to continue writing and has helped me pull away from the TV a bit. Now that the weather is warming up, I’m looking forward to curling up on the couch outside to enjoy my summer picks—starting with Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson…but I am jumping ahead. This post is about Emma Donoghue’s Room.

Room was released back in 2010 and has been on my reading list since I saw it on a friend’s desk. The word ROOM is written in all caps on the cover in primary colors and in crayon. The rest of the cover is a stark white. It is simple but it sparked thoughts of something juvenile but dark. Don’t ask why that appealed to me but I looked up the book online and read a quick synopsis. It went right on the list. Needless to say, I never got to it. I feel like a lot of my reading in 2010 and 2012 was non-fiction though I did listen to a few fictional audio books during my long commute (among my favorites were Little Bee, The Memory Keepers Daughter, Friday Night Knitting Club, The Help, The Lovely Bones, Prep and some that escape me despite being stellar…funny how you can remember specific details about a character you related to but you can’t remember the name of the book…oh how the memory fades.

Back to Room. I’ve read four great books this year and Room is my favorite of the four. If you don't want the details of the story, stop here. Just know I love it this book.


Now that you've been adequately warned about the spoiler...Room is told from the point of view of 5 year old Jack who you quickly realize is living in a small room with his mother. His world is defined by the room and the things in it are friends to him. He has an extensive vocabulary but there is something almost primal about his language. It is clear that he is not a boy growing up in normal circumstances but he seems happy. His mom seems happy initially until Jack works his way into the story a little more. The details quickly begin to reveal the true horror surrounding the circumstances of his life. Jack’s mother (Ma) was kidnapped and has been held hostage in a shed for 7 years. Jack is the product of her captor (Old Nick) forcing himself on her. Despite that, the two have an intense connection and she lives her days making sure to protect Jack from Old Nick.

The story takes an adrenaline pumping turn when Old Nick gets angry and cuts power to the shed for three days in the dead of winter. Ma’s fear for her boy and her anger at being a prisoner develop into a plan for Ma and Jack to escape. Donoghue stays true to Jack’s voice throughout the process. He experiences the fear a child would have in such a case but is also hell bent on being a superhero for his Ma. The escape plan falls apart but there is enough calamity to push a passerby to call the police on Old Nick after he sees Jack trying to get away from him in public. With Jack’s help, the police are able to rescue Ma before Old Nick gets to her.

Just when you are comfortable that everything will be alright (Jack and Ma are in a highly regarded medical facility receiving treatment and Ma has been reunited with her family), the real drama unfolds. Jack wants to go back to Room because it is all he’s ever known. Ma is quick to disregard that part of her life because she knew the real story behind the horror. There is tension between Ma and her family as she defends certain of her choices for Jack (like continuing to breast feed him at 5) and struggles to deal with her need for privacy while needing to earn money (by doing an interview).

In a surprising twist, Ma tries to commit suicide and Jack has to move in with his Grandmother. Ma ultimately survives and receives treatment for depression. Her recovery allows her to move into an apartment with Jack, albeit in a facility with medical personnel on call 24/7. The end of the book brings closure with Jack finally convincing Ma to go back to Room so he can see it one last time. We see the space through his eyes despite Ma’s disgust. Jack still loves Room but it seems so much smaller and dark now that he’s seen so much more of “Outside.” He makes his peace, takes his things and heads back out into life with Ma.

The book is a beautiful love story between Mother and Son despite its horrifying undercurrent. It has all of the sensationalism that comes with the story of finding a kidnapped person after almost a decade and all of the intimacy of a developing love between family members reuniting or meeting for the first time. People have said the book is an interpretation of the story of Josef Fritzl, who imprisoned his daughter for 24 years and fathered 6 of her children. Donoghue disputes that assertion and I’d agree. Room is so much more than this tale (that we’ve tragically heard several times in the past few decades). Having the story told from Jack’s point of view and taking Ma and Jack out of captivity to show the struggle of adjustment to life in “the real world” gives the story a fresh perspective. I loved every moment of the story.

Have you read Room? What did you think? If you haven’t read it, consider adding it to your reading list. It is a page-turner to say the least.

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