Sunday, November 14, 2010


This week I was the mood for another novel. One of my Moms lifelong friends is part of a book club, and I often hear second hand about some of her favorite reads, including Water for Elephants and The Book of Negroes. One afternoon, my Mom came home telling my about this book her friend was reading called Room. It sounded intriguing, and having enjoyed her previous recommendations I picked it up the next day. Written by Emma Donoghue, Room is inspired by the Josef Fritz case, in which an Austrian man locked his daughter in the basement for 24 years. It is gripping, claustrophobic, and fantastically evocative. As a thriller and love story of sorts, Donoghue's novel is a fantastic story, imaginative, unique and beautifully written, and a stunning achievement.

In many ways, Jack is a typical 5-year-old. He likes to read books, watch TV, and play games with his Ma. But Jack is different in a big way, he has lived his entire life in a single room, sharing the tiny space with only his mother and an unnerving nighttime visitor known as Old Nick. For Jack, Room is the only world he knows, but for Ma, it is a prison in which she has tried to craft a normal life for her son. When their insular world suddenly expands beyond the confines of their four walls, the consequences are piercing and extraordinary. Despite its profoundly disturbing premise, Donoghue's Room is rife with moments of hope and beauty, and the dogged determination to live, even in the most desolate circumstances. A stunning and original novel of survival in captivity, readers who enter Room will leave staggered, as though, like Jack, they are seeing the world for the very first time.

I was hooked upon reading the first paragraph, 'Today I'm five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I'm changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. "Was I minus numbers?"'

Told in the inventive, funny, and poignant voice of Jack, Room is a powerful story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible. As a narrator, five-year-old Jack is tremendously enticing as he faces a whole new world of unfamiliarity and fear. Earnest and bright, he is remarkably adaptable, and provides commentary that is lushly intricate. His mother, kidnapped seven years earlier while walking through her college campus at age 19, has created a world for her son that is rich in play and learning, all the while anticipating the day they might make their “great escape.” This environment has provided Jack with an impressive vocabulary, though his advanced learning is juxtaposed with the natural innocence and bewilderment of a small child. The result is a story told through a child’s eyes, but in language that is endearing rather than tiresome.

The character of Ma, while not the main voice, is nevertheless whole. Donoghue employs Jack’s descriptions of her moods, conversations, and thoughts to paint a picture of a woman struggling to keep it together for the sake of her child, while also fighting to become the person she once was and might be again, if circumstances allow.

For the first couple chapters I found the narrative a little hard to read. With Jack as the narrator, it was a little choppy. But like any character, once I got used to the way he talked, the narration became an important part of creating a memorable and emotionally compelling story. This was an incredible novel, and another look into the intricacies of relationships and survival. Donoghue has produced a novel that is sure to stay in the minds of readers for years to come.
"I was gripped by Room as soon as I discerned its startling premise. It is an almost macabre and completely accomplished novel, one that places Emma Donoghue in the company of writers such as Hilary Mantel and Muriel Spark -- writers who address evil in their works without flinching. Room is, however, leavened by one of the most convincing portrayals of love I have come across in literature or in the world outside it. Room deserves a wide readership. It should inspire a dialogue among its readers about how a life -- how all of our lives -- can be redeemed through the telling of stories, and through ingenuity, loyalty, bravery, hope and love."

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