Wynne Kontos's Reviews > Room

Room by Emma Donoghue
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May 17, 2012

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Read from May 11 to 17, 2012

I was given this book for Christmas, and have put off reading it until now. Even though I read depressing books all the time, I just wasn't sure I WANTED to read this. Something about this subject matter was off-putting to me. Which is unusual, not only based on the type of material I read and that I'm a social worker, but because this book was so hyped. I always read books that get lots of hype.
Emma Donoghue's novel is narrated from the point of view of Jack, a five year old born into an eleven by eleven room, the product of his young mother's kidnapper/rapist. Snatched from the sidewalk at her college campus, Ma, Jack's mother, has lived seven years in captivity, spending the last five years raising her son in a single room. Jack's world is extremely small, and even though they have a TV, he has been raised to believe that everything on TV is all fake--until now. Ma's inability to pretend that a world outside exists has finally eluded her. Overcome by their circumstances, she begins to tell Jack about their family and the world around them that they are no longer allowed to be a part of. Jack's narration uses a child's language to describe what he experiences, from Ma's rape by her captor, sleeping in Wadrobe (all things get proper noun names in Jack's world,) and the fact that he still breast feeds.
Alot of reviews I've read say that this book wouldn't work if Jack wouldn't have narrated it, but I disagree. I think it makes the novel more interesting. I think it provided an extra writing challenge for Donoghue. And it certainly would have been a different story from the mother's point of view. In some ways, Jack's point of view softens the reality of what you're reading "Old Nick creaks bed" reads easier than "I listen as a strange man rapes my mother." But you still know what's happening. I have to admit, about half way through, I became tired not of Jack's narration, but of his naivete. I know he's only lived in Room his WHOLE LIFE and has NO IDEA what ANYTHING is, but I felt consistently frustrated by his brain's lack of malleability. I know, I know, it doesn't make sense to criticize that. Had Donoghue written the book with Jack catching on faster to the world around him, like I expect a "normal" kid would, it wouldn't have made any sense. How could Jack process information if his only knowledge base was what his mother told him or what he saw in Room? I get it. Didn't make it any less annoying to experience....over and over. Sometimes I just plain flat felt annoyed of him. For example: his inability to understand that Dora the Explorer wasn't a real person. Here is a five year old that can read just about anything no matter the level of difficulty, because his mother has dedicated so much time to reading instruction, but she can't explain and convince him that a cartoon is fake?
What stands out most about the story really is the sense of human resiliency, and that a parent's love truly knows no bounds. Jack's mother looks at her son as the thing that led her through a harrowing ordeal, rather than the disgusting product of evil. Ma read much more real to me, and because of that, her juxtaposition with Jack made it an interesting read. I definitely see why it got so much attention. I commend an author willing to take on such a challenge, especially when she ultimately, succeeded.

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05/12/2012 page 211
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