Mswas’ CBR-III Review #18 – Room by Emma Donaghue06/04/2011
Never judge a book by its cover, and never judge a book by its premise. Room by Emma Donaghue is a book with a premise that I thought I would completely despise. It’s the story of a five-year-old boy whose only world is Room, a place where he and his mother have been held captive. His mother was kidnapped at 19 and held in an 11×11′ room for seven years.
Personally I cannot stand stories where children are harmed or lost, so I was very skeptical about the acclaim over this book. But the narrator, Jack, has such a funny, sweet voice that it’s easy to fall in love with him. Jack doesn’t know there’s anything wrong with the life he has, and his Ma does her level best to raise a normal healthy child as best as she can.
For Phys Ed we leave our socks off because bare feet are grippier. Today I choose Track first, we lift Table upside down onto Bed and Rocker on her with Rug over the both. Track goes around Bed from Wardrobe to Lamp, the shape on Floor is a black C. “Hey, look, I can do a there-and-back in sixteen steps.”
“Wow. When you were four it was eighteen steps, wasn’t it?” says Ma. “How many there-and-backs do you think you can run today?”
Ma has made Room into a world for Jack, and she is everything to him. She makes the most of the five picture books they have, the three channels on the television, and the stories and songs she remembers. Jack is a happy and smart boy.
Their nights are sometimes interrupted by Old Nick, their captor. Jack only knows that he must hide in Wardrobe when Old Nick comes, because Ma doesn’t want Old Nick to even gaze upon Jack. Old Nick knows that Jack exists, but they rarely interact. Jack hears the bedsprings creaking and counts them every time, but he has no idea what he is hearing or what is going on.
When Ma and Jack’s world suddenly grows and moves outside Room, about halfway through the book, we watch them acclimate to life outside captivity. Jack’s lack of understanding of just how awful and serious a situation they had been in lends a poignancy to the story.
“…probably young enough to forget,” he’s saying, “which will be a mercy.”
That’s thanks in Spanish I think.
In the world I notice persons are nearly always stressed and have no time… In Room me and Ma had time for everything. I guess the time gets spread very thin like butter over all the world, the roads and houses and playgrounds and stores, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit.
Those are pretty wise words coming from any five-year-old, let alone one whose life has been spent mostly in captivity. Jack as narrator is a voice filled with wonder, humor, and love. Ma is a fierce protector of her son, and though she has her own struggles, she helps him grow in this new world.
Emma Donoghue has written a lovely, hopeful story about a terrible situation. Her language is simple and plain, but the ideas are not dumbed down. I want to go back and read it again to see the world through Jack’s eyes once more. You should too.