Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: Emma Donoghue's Room

When I picked up Room from the BPL, an impeccably dressed Indian man spotted its distinctive cover and came over to me. “That is a beautiful book,” he said with a lovely British accent. “Well, not beautiful. You know.” I took in his red sweater, blue blazer, and gorgeous leather shoes as I replied, “I’m looking forward to reading it.” We shared a smile, the bond between two readers who want to know the secrets of the same book. That was the end of our conversation, but his words echoed in my ear as I made my way through Room’s pages.

I stayed up all night rooting for the central pair of Jack and Ma. In the depths of depravity, they forged a quaint life together. Some might say their redemption was born from Ma’s love, but in retrospect, it’s hard to know exactly where her love stops and her desperate thirst for freedom begins. Yes, she made sure that Jack stayed in shape, that his mind was developed, that he did not despair in their captivity. However, was she only preparing him to be a partner in escape? How long had she been thinking about her plan? These questions do not preclude love—that Ma loves Jack, her one bright spot in a hellhole, is a given—but they certainly make her more interesting. Pushed beyond mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion, Ma does what she must.

Jack was an engaging narrator, an astonishingly empathetic and creative little boy. I can’t really say too much about the specifics, but I was interested to know if the fiction matched up with reality. Developmentally, he seemed years ahead of his peers, and I wonder if those results could be actually achieved, provided the child is brought up in a similar state of constant enrichment. (That is, acknowledging that such appalling conditions should never be replicated.) The plasticity of the young mind is amazing, and I loved exploring Jack’s evolving concept of reality.

Donoghue has a fine grasp of the telling detail. I was struck by the specifics, especially Jack’s lack of spatial awareness/depth perception and his vulnerability to sunburn, which convinced me that Jack and Ma lived in Room for as long as they did. Even better, the mundane details—the daily schedules, the furniture, the learning from repeated experience—were as fully imagined as some of the more horrific circumstances.

Both the ordinary and the extraordinary combine to make Room and its inhabitants haunting. Obviously, the inspiration came from real events, so I appreciated that Donoghue strove for authenticity over a straightforward happy ending. Anyone, fictional or actual, who lived through a thing like Room would be rocked by their survival.

1 comment:

  1. I've tried many times to put my thoughts into words for this review and have come up short every time. All I can say is it's a book you want to read. A gut wrenching, emotional, terrifying, addicting, hopeful, satisfying read that you won't be able to put down. Really.

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