Newest Review: ... the whole understanding of the emotions is complex. The story comes from the eyes of Jack, who is the young son, born in the 'room' or mod... more
A dream in the joyless wood?
Room - Emma Donoghue
Member Name: QueenElf
Room - Emma Donoghue
Advantages: Hauntinly beautiful, compelling read.
Disadvantages: none for me.
Jack has just turned five and has some questions for his ma, (as he calls her), he knows he went to bed 4 years old and woke up 5, but before he was three, then two and finally one. Was he minus years before that? It's a strange but fairly common thing to question at that age, most kids have a concept of time, but Jack is not a normal kid. His world is 11 feet by 11 feet and hasn't any windows or doors that he can enter or exit. There is 'Skylight' which allows some natural light in but shows nothing of the outside world. In fact Jack lives with his ma in Room, the entire universe except for the characters in books or on TV, which his ma tells him, is not real.
He's a bright, inquisitive child, who can tell the time by ma's Watch, and then there is Wardrobe where Jack sleeps when 'Old Nick' visits Bed. Old Nick comes and goes but since Jack doesn't see him and he isn't interested in Jack then the question of where he comes from and goes back to doesn't disturb the world that Ma has cleverly constructed for Jack to live in. As we learn about Jack's world through his narrative voice the reader gets to learn that something is definitely very different and it isn't long before we know that ma has been locked in this place where she's been for seven years and where Jack was both conceived and born. I'm not plot spoiling since it's part of the start of the story and also is mentioned in the rave reviews this book has received.
The rest of the book deals with what happens when Jack finds out that Outside is a real place and Room is not the whole world. How will he deal with the reality when he's never seen anything different, or did more than crawl, run around the furniture and has skin untouched by weather? How will his mother cope with freedom after bringing up a child in such circumstances? This is what grabs the reader's attention and keeps it focused on the narrative; you just want to know the outcome.
Naturally this is very much a character-driven novel with the focus on Jack's observations. It's difficult to think like a child again let alone write convincingly in a way you image a child's mind works, yet it can be done, the author does it without a single moment that sounds 'off', to me it was a boy called Jack speaking to me. The use of capitalizing each object in the Room shows how important this place is to the boy and how his mother manages some sense of individuality despite the claustrophobic atmosphere. That the boy is articulate, can read and write and spell along with knowing things better than some adults is down to the mother who we learn was taken at the age of nineteen. How did she cope without going mad?
I've read only a few reviews on this book and naturally I did consider if the story was one-sided since we never get to learn of how the woman feels only through what conversations she has with Jack, though fortunately they are frequent enough to learn a lot about her. Without any distractions from an ordinary life then her son becomes her universe although she does get desperately depressed and through Jack's observations we again find out what happens when Ma 'goes away' in her head. That one thing alone made me think about coping alone. Jack is able to pour milk and get cereal. He can read to stay amused and sleep when there is nothing else to do. There is another thing he does to get by but I don't want to spoil that part of the book.
Naturally there are other characters later on yet the book is a commentary through Jack and if this idea seems impossible then you haven't been in the company and the trust of a young child who is trying to work out how things are done in the world and what is his place in things. Children are selfish on the whole and this is natural. Until they are old enough to understand empathy they are the center of the universe and we adults are charged with keeping their worldview a wholesome one. For me that summed up part of what the author was trying to do with her characters, although you can read so much into the book.
My Personal Thoughts.
This is the most unusual book I've read in a long time and one that seems to be unique. The writing is beautiful throughout with the author's keen insight into the relationship with a boy and his mother set against what would happen if their whole world were reduced to one room. No wonder the character of Jack thinks of Room as a noun. This helped to set the child's character slightly apart from his mother and although Jack does think of them as a unit, he does see the difference when his Ma retreats into a dark depression.
From the narration Jack appears reasonably well balanced and certainly has a lot of empathy towards his Ma. This grows more as the story unfolds. This is when the heartache sets in and the bond between mother and son is put under almost unbearable pressure. Yet Jack is the salvation of his mother, something which all mums will understand when they read certain passages. It started me thinking, especially since I've been bonding more with my grandson Jack in the past year. Together we have our 'talk time' when I've read him his bedtime story. This is important to both of us and I could see the issues the author was perhaps addressing in her book. As a mother and child unit starts out almost isolated, so it begins to open out as the family and friends start to become more important. She demonstrates this so well that it's hardly noticed.
The other thing that struck me was the fact that I didn't think of where the book was based until almost half-way through, it could have been any country in the English-speaking world, it turned out to be America. That takes a lot of doing since I can usually spot an American phrase, perhaps that was another clever use of words by the author.
In the end though I just wanted to find out what was going to happen to the mother and son. I really felt it hard to put the book down and wondered if I should have put it aside until I could read it straight through. But by reading a bit and absorbing that part I thought more about the story and less about the technique, although it's a brilliant idea executed with superb precision and almost effortless ease of writing. Most people want to discuss the book with someone and I found this as well. I found it incredibly moving, uplifting at times, haunting at others, a real joy to read and one that left me thinking about it for days after. I recommend you read it wholeheartedly. I would also say that you shouldn't think of this as a tragic book, it's sad in parts and what happened to the mother was unthinkable, yet the mother/child bond redeems it and the book turns out as a triumph.
I managed to pick my copy up in a charity shop for £1.50 but would have paid the full price because this is one I'll keep coming back to read again. At 399 pages it's a perfect read for a day of curling up and doing nothing else.
Thanks for reading.
Summary: My book of the year.