Room by Emma Donoghue
Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2010
Shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize. Borrowed from the library.
Wow. Room is one of the most initially disturbing and unusual books I have read in a long time. The story, told by five-year-old Jack, is about a young women who has been kidnapped and forced to live in a twelve by twelve foot room. In this room she gives birth to her son and raises him in the best way she can think of. In the beginning the story had me feeling claustrophobic and very uncomfortable, I almost put it down. Donoghue’s skill, her ability to “be” Jack, is what made me stick with it. At times writing this book must have been difficult.
We have our cereal and brush teeth get dressed and water Plant. We try and fill Bath but after the first bit the water comes out all icy so we just wash with cloths. It gets brighter through Skylight only not very. TV doesn’t work too, I miss my friends. I pretend they’re coming on the screen, I pat them with my fingers. Ma says let’s put on another shirt and pants each to be warm, even two socks on each foot. We run Track for miles and miles and miles to warm us up, then Ma lets me take off the outside socks because my toes are all squished. “My ears hurt,” I tell her.
Her eyebrows go up.
“It’s too quiet in them.”
“Ah, that’s because we’re not hearing all the little sounds we’re use to, like the heat coming on or the refrigerator hum.” From page 76.
Part of the strength of this book is the personification of special objects, the way Ma’s instinctive protection of Jack makes all things inside Room part of their “family” and everything outside unreal, as if what’s out there are props in some kind of surreal puppet show.
I know there has been intense discussion about this book. It seems people either love it or hate it. Some question Donoghue’s use of real life events as the basis for her novel, but authors have always written from life. People have always told stories about other people. Stories are one of the ways we learn to put ourselves into different perspectives, to gain understanding and empathy. Over time stories have help change human consciousness. I find Emma Donoghue’s ability to place the point of view of her novel into the mind of a five-year old boy quite stunning, and greatly admire her for it.