Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review -- Room by Emma Donoghue

Review: If you've heard of this book at all, you probably know basically what it's about: a woman is locked in a room, raising her young son (she was impregnated by her abductor/rapist). This is not going to be a cheerful story…

The story's told from five-year-old Jack's point of view, in Jack’s language. He says “disappeared it” instead of “took it away”, and turns the objects in Room into proper nouns (dinner isn’t laid out on the table, but rather on Table) because of course in his world there is only one table, period. In Jack’s world, nothing is real outside Room*, stuff on TV is all pretend, and stores don’t really exist.

* Has anyone ever read Robert Heinlein’s "Orphans of the Sky”? A self-sustaining ship journeys through space for so many generations that people on board have forgotten the ship is not all there is to the universe. In "Room”, we see how easily that could happen. Though Jack knows something exists outside room, because Old Nick comes at night, providing them with food and clothing.

I found the first 80 pages or so to drag a bit, though they were crucial to the story: The author needed to establish exactly what it’s like in Room before any moves can be made to shake Jack’s world view. I also found Jack’s child-voice a little annoying at first, but grew used to it as the story progressed. I say this not as a criticism to the book, but to say not to give up on it.

I have to give the author credit for telling such an adult story from a child’s perspective. Jack doesn’t understand all that is going on, but faithfully dictates what he sees and hears, and so Ma’s feelings and motivations are clear to us, the readers. I think this really enriched the story. If it had been told in Ma’s voice, it would have been more her tale, rather than a shared story.

This is a well-written novel dealing with a dark side of humanity. I liked that even in Room, we still see some typical parent/child battles. (For example, when Jack sees a mouse behind the stove, it instantly becomes his best friend, though Ma reacts by shoving foil into the hole so the mouse can’t come back.) I thought the characters were all realistic, and the author handled the entire topic well.

Lit Snit Verdict: A

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