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"Room" - it's a Five Year Old's Whole World...
Room - Emma Donoghue
Member Name: azana
Room - Emma Donoghue
Date: 07/11/10, updated on 07/11/10 (121 review reads)
Advantages: well written and interesting
Disadvantages: couldn't put it down - disturbing in some ways
The Room of the title (capital letter intended as it is what the narrator calls it), is an eleven foot by eleven foot shed which is the whole world for one little boy, Jack, aged five and his mother. At the start of the book it is Jack's birthday, all seems normal as he is woken and given his modest present, but we soon realise that this is not a five year old in a normal situation by any means. As the book unfolds we learn that his 27 year old mother has been imprisoned after being kidnapped in a sound proofed shed with no windows and just a skylight for 8 whole years. In this time she has given birth and has constructed a whole universe for her son where there is no "outside" but where there are routines and rituals as the mother fights for some sort of normal, and indeed to survive.
The whole book is seen through the eyes of Jack and in his language. Having a four and a half year old myself I did wonder how much this style would grate, but actually it works really well as we as readers discover the world along with Jack himself. On the cusp of leaving infanthood behind him Jack is beginning to wonder how things work, where does the man who brings food in the night time when he is asleep in "Wardrobe"get the food from and is the world he sees on TV real or imaginary? I was totally convinced by the veracity of Jack and never doubted his dialogue or his ability to process the world. Jack is beyond an average five year old in some ways, able to read fluently; this made sense as with endless hours to occupy in a small place, only five books and next to no actual toys, his childhood is obviously far from the average and given few distractions I imagine you would focus your child's development on the few areas you can control whilst trying to make the ones you can't bearable. In other ways he is like a newborn who has never felt the rain on his face or the wind in his hair. Though bizarre in the extreme, his childhood as portrayed in the book is punctuated by a few familiar things like "dora the explorer" that any modern mother would probably recognise and his behaviour is authentic in terms of representing a five year old who wants to watch TV a little longer or doesn't want to go to bed, even if bed is the place you are hidden at night so you are not seen.
All this might sound as if it makes for a depressing book - it's not at all, though it is at times horrifying it's never horrific as such. I found myself having to re-evaluate the things that surround my everyday existence, in Jack's world where items are so few and far between that they are almost personified - there's "Bed" and "Light", the limited things he knows being made proper nouns as, as far as Jack knows they are the only ones that exist. In my life there are probably too many "things"- only the bare essentials fill Room and any of them can be removed at any time, and the only way to fight back is to hide a race track you have drawn under Rug or make a toy fort out of bottles. It's a lesson in the inventiveness and resilience of the human mind.
We never see anything through Jack's mother's eyes and indeed never know her name but by seeing the way she keeps her child occupied with PhysEd of sorts and making things out of old egg shell, and by what is a very authentic mother-child relationship we come to have a fair idea of who she is. For me she became more than the victim of an abuser and was a real, though not idealised mother - she's not perfect and there are days where she is "Gone", as Jack puts it, an adult reader can interpret the images that Jack gives and work out that her absences are depression and the "screaming game" at the skylight is an attempt to escape. The relationship between Jack and his mother is brilliantly written - there are elements about it that will disturb some readers but never do you doubt that Jack is loved unconditionally by his mother, and that is what stayed with me.
Clearly the idea for this book has a basis is reality as there have been several high profile cases of late such as that of Natascha Kampusch who was kept imprisoned from the age of 10, that obviously inspired the book. I find it remarkable that the author could convince me so completely of the existence of Room and the characters, I really did want them to escape and could understand why the mum hadn't told Jack about the world outside. I felt scared for him as he started to find out more about the wider world where there are germs, hundreds of other people and far much more complexity - how would he cope if faced with a world where the amount of food and things there were was not controlled by a monster who comes at night and is named "Old Nick" - would real life measure up to life on TV that up to now was the only other reality you believe to exist? How would you cope with a world ready to label you as the "bonsai boy" or where journalists wanted to take pictures of you to share with a news hungry world? What if your world suddenly grew from being feet squared to becoming a place where the rules you have lived by all your life no longer have any meaning?
To find out I really suggest you read this book, it's perhaps the most remarkable work of fiction I have read for some time, at times I found it disturbing but at other points it was heart warming, funny and throughout I kept turning the pages to find out what would happen next, when it ended I wanted it to go on. Though the idea of a character who doesn't know the world is bigger than it seems is not new (think "The Truman Show" or even"Bolt"), this book does have an interesting twist on that idea and the author manages to turn the horrific into the compelling, for me the book worked on every level. It makes you see the world you know differently, it's that powerful. I highly recommend this book, it could be your most unforgettable read this year as it is mine.
Note: I read this book in kindle format, it is also available in paper back and hardcover form - I haven't actually seen a physical copy of this book , but should note that in kindle there were a few typos and some odd formatting in parts, but this did not detract from the book.
Summary: an original idea, an amazing book