Friday, February 25, 2011

If Room wasn't our home, does that mean we don't have one?

I just finished reading Room by Emma Donoghue and before I start talking about the book I want to thank the book blogging community.  If I didn't have this blog and subsequently follow lots of other book bloggers, I don't think I'd know about this book and I'm certain I wouldn't have picked it up on my own. Actually as it stands I still didn't pick it up on my own (a friend gave it to me) but the point is by the time he gave me a copy I wanted to read it because of everything I'd heard about it from other bloggers. Apparently even without taking part in a challenge I've been able to move out of my normal reading comfort zone. Thanks all.

And with that, onto the book. If you haven't heard about it, Room is the story of Jack, a five year-old boy who's lived his entire life in a single room. The shed is the only reality he's ever know, the only world he's ever experienced as real. Jack's Ma was kidnapped long before Jack was born, and she's done all she can to make sure Jack grows up safe and well-adjusted in this prison. The story is told entirely from Jack's point of view, which in my opinion was both a pro and con to the book. From this narrator you experience a unique point of view as Jack describes Room and Outer Space. He has many times unintentionally funny and poignant and constantly grapples, as best as a 5 year old can, with the question of "What is reality?"

I'm going to try to keep this as spoiler free as I can but I'm not the best judge of a spoiler so proceed at your own caution.
The basic plot is as follows: young girl is kidnapped, held prisoner in a specially constructed garden shed/prison and repeatedly raped. She has a son named Jack after a couple years in the shed and Jack grows up knowing only this single Room and the items in it. After 5 years Ma plans an escape and the two are free. Now I could very easily see this plot as a fairly predictable thriller, written from Ma's point of view and stopping here. But there's a reason Donoghue's book was shortlisted for so many awards and that's because she doesn't take this easy route. Instead the story is told from Jack's point of view and the escape happens right in the middle of the story. I think literally at the 50% mark according to my Kindle. The second half of the story deals with how Jack deals with this new reality that is so different from the world he's known his entire life.

Pete over at What You Read wrote a review of Room and discussed how books have to earn their happy endings for the story to be worth it. While the characters certain went through enough in the first part of the book to "deserve" their happy ending, the reader would have been shafted. The more interesting part to me was when both Jack and his Ma have to learn to live and re-live in this new Outside world. This reintegration is both funny and heartbreaking. I can't say the ending is necessarily "happy" but it's peaceful.

I said Jack as narrator is both a pro and a con. I love having the story told from a child's point of view, however, I don't necessarily love a child's speech patterns.  Even a kid as precocious as Jack. Following a kid's grammar and syntax took some getting used to, at least for me. I wonder if this contributes to the fact that I liked the second half of the book better; by that time I was used to Jack's voice so I let it tell me the story instead of trying to figure out what he was talking about. That being said, using Jack as the narrator doesn't feel like a gimmick. The story Donoghue wrote couldn't have been told from an adult's point of view. It needs the simplicity and wonder that a child brings. The story could have easily been exploitative but Jack as the child doesn't see or fully understand all of the evil in the world or even in his situation.

This is a really wonderful book. I don't know that it's my favorite read of the year but it's certainly one of the better books I've read, and I'm very happy I got the chance to check it out. I absolutely recommend it to, well anyone really.

Title quote from location 2910.

Donoghue, Emma. Room. Little, Brown and Company, 2010. eBook.