Newest Review: ... have been intentional. The plot follows the story of a young boy (Jack) and his mother who was abducted by 'Old Nick' at the age of 19... more
Rises above the voyeuristic
Room - Emma Donoghue
Member Name: dee778
Room - Emma Donoghue
Date: 04/04/11, updated on 04/04/11 (89 review reads)
Advantages: Well written and sensitively portrayed
In this way the reader slowly discovers the horror that is Jack and Ma's life: little by little we realise that their whole world has been a twelve foot square room where they have been imprisoned for well over five years; that they depend on a man called Old Nick for everything - food, clothes, light and heat, but they are never allowed out of the room. As Jack starts to get older and it becomes more difficult to squeeze into Wardrobe to hide, we start to share Ma's panic as she realises that they have to escape and share her despondency as she retreats into the staring depression that means that even Jack cannot reach her. Can Ma hatch a plan? Will Jack be brave enough to help her - and if they do escape, exactly how will they cope with the outside world that has now become a fantasy for both of them?
Elisabeth Fritzl, Natascha Kampusch, Jaycee Dugard - every time a new captive atrocity hits the headlines, we cannot help but be horribly fascinated by the details of the story. Much has been written about the lives of these young girls, kidnapped, abused and imprisoned for years, and now Emma Donoghue has written a compulsively moving novel on the subject. Is it right to be thrilled by a work of fiction that is so obviously based on somebody else's real life horror? As I picked up this book for the first time, I felt almost guilty - a voyeur who was being allowed a glimpse into something nasty and private. It was only the author's credentials as a serious and award winning author, alongside very positive reviews from the major critics that convinced me to start to read this book - and I was not disappointed.
What saves the novel from the voyeuristic is that events are related through the eyes of Jack, with all of the innocence that encompasses. From Jack's narrative, the adult reader can see and understand everything that is going on between the adults, but for Jack these events are just mysterious and strange , not horrific. We do not suffer with Ma; we do not hear about her repeated rape, her depression, her thoughts of suicide - everything we hear is through Jack - and Jack is happy. He loves his Room, he loves being with Ma and he doesn't need anything else. Jack does not consider the Room to be a prison and is terrified by the smallest idea that there may be a real world on the outside.
The skill and sensitivity which the author used in writing this novel is what makes it compulsive reading. The overriding memory that I have is of love, not horror; the overpowering love that a mother has for her child and the strength that this gives her. Ma is never named in the book, but she devotes her life to Jack; making him do Phys Ed every day and designing exercises that can be carried out in a tiny space; making sure that he brushes his teeth and learns to cook. She never sinks into the easy escape of imaginary worlds, making sure that they only watch the TV for short periods of time every day, as she remembers her first years alone in the room and the way TV 'turned her brain to mush'. As a result, the TV is used to improve Jack's general knowledge and vocabulary as he takes on philosophical issues and parrots the advanced vocabulary of adults.
Emma Donoghue has said that she created Jack and Ma as a tribe, isolated on a sort of desert island, and she designed Jack's vocabulary and social development in this context. Jack does not miss the friends he never had, instead he personificates every object in the room; everything is talking to him and playing with him. His innocence is tragic but filters the horror for the reader.
'Room' was a very pleasant surprise for me; I set out expecting a disturbing and slightly voyeuristic holiday read, but found a moving story of love which was unexpectedly uplifting. The thought and research that Donoghue put into the book makes it totally believable in terms of both Jack's development and his relationship with his mother. The despair of Ma is glimpsed only between the lines of Jack's narrative and so is tolerable. I was completely swept away by the story and shared all the feelings of hope, despair and panic with Ma and Jack as they cope with the unimaginable.
Emma Donoghue is an Irish-born playwright, literary historian and novelist who now lives in Canada. Room is her seventh novel , although she has written a substantial number of plays, screenplays and non-fiction books.
Donoghue's 1995 novel Hood won the Stonewall Book Award and Slammerkin (2000) won the Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction. Room was shortlisted for the Man booker prize in 2010.
Room is published by Picador: 336 pages, ISBN 0330519026
Summary: An excellent read