As mentioned in last Sunday Book Club’s post I’m going to be discussing “ROOM” by Emma Donoghue this week. Did you finish it by today or did you need more time? I’m generally a fast reader, so I can put more time between Sunday Book Club posts if more time is needed, or, if you’re not reading along & you don’t care when they get posted – please let me know in the Comments below!
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I heard about this book through one of my college roommates when it first came out a few years ago. At the time I wasn’t too intrigued because it sounded super sad & possibly graphic. Now, however, the book has been made into a film that’s getting a huge amount of positive attention in the Entertainment industry. The film was nominated for Oscars for Best Picture, Actress in a Leading Role (Brie Larson – winner!), Directing, Adapted Screenplay. I was curious to read the source material before I potentially watch the movie. Also, along the way I have added other books by Emma Donoghue to my book list, so I’m more interested to read this novel that first introduced me to her name. As I said, I was a little scared to read this due to the troubling plot…which you’ll read below!
WARNING: Light spoilers. If you know the basic plot of the story, you can figure out the path it’s going to take, so I’m just going to describe the basics. However, I’ll try not to be too specific so you can still be surprised by the twists & turns.
“ROOM” is the story of Ma & Jack, told from 5 year old Jack’s point of view. Ma is a young woman who was kidnapped & held hostage by a man known as Old Nick. She becomes pregnant with Jack while being held hostage, so all Jack has ever known is the one room they are contained in. He knows nothing of the outside world or the people that exist beyond Ma & Old Nick. The book follows their life including how Ma shields Jack from the real reason they’re in “Room”, among other things.
– Ma: Ma is extremely tough & dedicated to giving Jack the best life possible despite their crazy circumstances. She often has to choose between Jack & herself & has to sacrifice to keep him protected from the reality of the situation, I can’t imagine being in her shoes. There are some scenes at the end of the book that do a wonderful job of showcasing her character, especially who she was before the kidnapping & her commitment to Jack. It’s hard to get into too much detail without giving away the plot.
– Jack: I think overall Jack’s character is supposed to represent a fear of moving on, something we carry with us even as adults. He never quite understands that Room is a bad place. It’s all he knows & Ma did a great job protecting him, so he never fully agrees with her that Outside would be better. I don’t think Donoghue meant for this story to be metaphorical, I think she was just trying to tell a story of a fierce love between a mother & son in unimaginable circumstances. However, I like the idea of Jack representing a fear of moving on because I think more people can identify with that. It’s a little hard to connect to someone who’s 20 years younger than me, different gender, obviously different upbringing, etc – but it’s easy to connect with him when I think about how scared he must be to figure out there’s a big world beyond the only front door he’s ever seen. At its most basic, its similar to leaving home for the first time, ending a bad relationship, starting a new adventure etc.
– Pg 6: “Oh, I forgetted to have some when I woke up.
That’s OK. Maybe we could skip it once in a while, now you’re five?
No way Jose. So she lies down on the white of Duvet and me too and I have lots.”
When I first read this passage I had NO idea what was going on. I know nothing about kids or the way they talk, so I wasn’t sure if I was missing something, or if this is how Donoghue wrote the dialogue. After a bit more reading – that’s how Jack was written. This passage refers to breast feeding, which Jack still does at 5 years old due to the strange conditions of his living situation & Ma’s reluctant willingness. Also, Jack refers to everything in “Room” like it’s a person…Duvet, Bed, etc are names, not just objects.
Donoghue did an amazing job of pacing this novel so you feel like you’re in that room with Ma & Jack. Every day/page it’s basically the same thing, a little monotonous & slow, but mixed with anxiety because you never know what might happen. At a certain point there’s only a couple options for the ending so you’re just waiting for it to go down & see HOW exactly it happens. After the excitement, the ending is kind of lackluster, but I think that’s a reflection of what you could expect from the situation – this sounds vague but I don’t want to give too much away. Reading from the point of view of a 5 year old was an interesting writing technique on Donoghue’s part because it gives a very horrific & graphic topic a bit of innocence. Obviously Jack is the product of rape & Old Nick keeps Ma to continue raping her. However, the reader is never really subjected to those intense scenes because Jack isn’t, we only experience what Jack experiences. When Old Nick comes to “visit” Ma, Jack is usually asleep or Ma has told him to hide. We hear about the “bed creaking”, but that’s about as graphic as it gets, which is a welcome relief. I feel like this book could be a different experience for every reader because we can only know as much as Jack knows, yet at the same time, we can make inferences based on context clues & everyone can interpret those differently.
As dark & ugly as the topic of this book is, I did enjoy it. However, it’s not something I feel a great desire to read again. I’m not even sure I would recommend it, except that the writing was really well done & that’s worth something to me. As mentioned before you kind of have an idea of how things are going to end which might be frustrating for some.
Have you read “ROOM”? If so, what did you think? Have you read/do you recommend any of Donoghue’s other books? Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in the comments below!
Again, please let me know in the Comment section below if you would prefer that I only cover one book a month so you have time to read along or if you’re not reading along & want me to review books at my own pace.
The next Sunday Book Club will be March 20th & will cover “Paper Towns” by John Green.