11 July 2011

Room by Emma Donoghue

Brief Synopsis
This is the story of a 5 year old boy, Jack, and his mom. Jack’s mom was kidnapped when she was 19 and confined in an 11 by 11 room by Old Nick. Jack was born in the room and never knew about the wider world. Jack and his mom manage to escape room (after 8 years of captivity) and emerge into the world.

Thoughts and Reflections
This is quite a book. The topic is certainly a difficult one to discuss and to read, but I did not find the book overwhelming. The book is written from the perspective of Jack, which was both convincing and interesting. Seeing this new world through his eyes was an experience unto itself. However, the readers understanding of the situation is likely far greater than that of a Jack’s. In my opinion, the author successfully met this balance successfully of convincingly writing from the perspective of a 5 year old, whilst still adequately informing an adult reader of the situation.

The reader is first introduced to Jack and his mom, but their situation isn’t entirely clear. The reader is aware that their situation is limited, but not why or how much. Slowly, over the first section of the book, the reader learns what life is like in this room. In this section, I admired the mom for making the best of this situation, for continuing to teach her son even in this incredibly restricted environment. I was also incredibly frustrated by their frustration and as I learned how and why they were restricted, I felt their panic to escape.

Two thirds of the book focuses on their rehabilitation. This in itself was unique in my opinion. More commonly books focus on the trauma, rather than the rehabilitation. The reader is faced with the very basic aspects of their emergence, such as the sensitivity of their skin, which hasn’t been exposed to UV light in 8 years (or 5 years in Jack’s case). In addition, the reader learned of the greater mental struggle of this process. Jack, for instance, experiences fear of this world about which he knew nothing. He misses the room, this place that he knew so thoroughly with a consistent schedule. He also was with his mother at all times. Being in a different room than her was difficult initially. Then, there is the mother and the trauma of sexual abuse, being kidnapped, etc. Emerging for her was learning about a world that moved on without her, that had stopped looking for her, that now saw her as a victim and wanted to know all the gory details of her captivity. She also had to justify all her actions, such as keeping Jack alive in such a situation.

At times, certain instances mentioned in the book were not adequately followed up on. For instance, the mom was evidently adopted. This fact was mentioned, but not necessarily followed up on very much. I wondered what the purpose of mentioning this fact, how being adopted contributed to the character. The only follow up was when the mother of Jack’s mom mentioned that she thought she had just run away, which sometimes happened with adopted children. Perhaps this indicated that they didn’t search as hard as they would have for their natural child, not believing that their natural child would have run away from them. This is a minor detail, but I just wondered after reading the book why the author mentioned that the mom was adopted and what the purpose of this fact was intended to be. Another instance is the fact that they kept their hair long. The book mentioned that they have scissors, but for some reason, they do not cut their hair. For the most part, these dropped elements are minor, but the lack of follow through was certainly noticeable. 

I found the contrast between Jack and his in their response to the room incredibly interesting. For Jack’s mom, without question, the room was a house of horrors, in which Jack was her only refuge. For Jack, the room was perfectly normal and happy. This is where he played and got to spend lots of fun time with his mom. He never noticed the things he had to do without, never having known them in the first place. This, naturally, affected their attitude as they emerged into the outside world. Jack compared everything back to his life in the room and wanted to go back. Going back there and being able to say goodbye to it was a crucial part of moving forward. For his mother, she was ready to forget everything about her captivity, except for Jack. However, though this isn’t explicit, I wondered if going back to the room and seeing it and saying good bye to it, was equally necessary for her rehabilitation.

And so, I certainly enjoyed this novel. Overall, the book sets a mood of healing. Though it discusses this terrible event, the book is not depressing, likely because it is written from Jack’s perspective. I would definitely recommend to give this novel a read!

About the Author
Emma Donoghue was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1962. She has been working as a writer from the age of 23 in 1985. She attended Dublin University College, receiving a Bachelor`s of Arts in English and French in 1990. She then went on to earn a PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1997. She then settled in London, Ontario, Canada in 1998, where she still lives with her husband, son, and daughter.

Things I Loved About This Book
1. I liked the characters.
2. I liked the focus on rehabilitation, rather then their captivity. 
3. I liked the contrast between Jack`s experience emerging into the wider world with his mom`s experience.


theoncominghope said...

I loved this book, though it was absolutely terrifying in places (more than some pure horror novels even!) A lot of people hated the second half though, so I wrote a defense of sorts of it here:


Netherland said...

Room is a book that requires intense emotional investment. That's all the warning I can give you about the story contained in this book, so when you pick it up prepare to invest in it and to lose yourself in Jack's voice. I was apprehensive for the first page or so in wondering if I could connect to Jack, the five year old narrating the story but... this worry was unfounded. I'm in awe of the power Emma Donoghue wields through the voice of Jack and think this book should be read widely.
While reading this book I was reminded of a human interest story I'd read in the news a while back. In Plant City, Florida a 6 year old girl was found living in horrible conditions. They compared (as this story has been compared) her story to that of Tarzan and speculations were going crazy about her development and how she would be affected by this.

Facebook Status said...

A perfect synchronization of innocence, emotions and sentiments --- That's my definition of room... Kudos to Emma Donoghue for writing such a lovely book. From the first page itself, you start bonding with Jack and his Ma. I cherished every word, every sentence of this book... Undoubtedly, it tops my most favorite book list... Believe me, you will never regret buying this book.

Seriously, Room is a book to treasure... :)