I have taken so long to write a review for Room by Emma Donoghue because I don’t really know what to say other than “love love love love it!” I’m still having difficulties expressing what I liked so much about this book. It’s powerful, it’s honest, it’s raw, and yet it’s very endearing. Parts of it are like a scary movie: you can’t not watch.
To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It’s where he was born and where he and his Ma eat and play and learn. At night, Ma puts him safely to sleep in the wardrobe, in case Old Nick comes.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it’s the prison where Old Nick has kept her for seven years, since she was nineteen. Through ingenuity and determination, Ma has created a life for herself and her son, but she knows it’s not enough for either of them. Jack’s curiosity is building alongside Ma’s desperation — and Room can’t contain either of them for much longer…
Everyone has been raving about Room; it was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award, and won the Writer’s Trust Award. The story is emotional, the writing is honest and poignant, and I can’t say enough about it. It kept me reading late into the night and itching to read again when I woke up.
I will admit that it took a chapter or two to get into the style of writing. Room is narrated by Jack who was educated solely by Ma. He’s smart, but he’s not overly cheeky. At first I didn’t like how he capitalizes all the objects in the room, but once I got into the flow, I realized how well it worked. He truly believes that Bed and Fridge and Rug are the only ones that really exist. Everything else is “not really real” just TV.
“He doesn’t think of it as a prison because his mother has pulled off the extraordinary trick of making him feel he has everything he needs,” Emma said during an interview/tour with CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi.
Emma Donoghue studied her son’s language, mannerisms, and expressions to achieve the authentic voice of Jack. “You make a language that will have the flavour of a five-year-old, but won’t actually make the adult reader stumble all the time,” Emma explained in an interview in the National Post. The grammatical errors and made-up words really ring true for that age range.
I had the opportunity to hear Emma Donoghue speak at the Vancouver International Writer’s Festival. When she read an excerpt from Room, her voice and expressions brought Jack to life even more. It felt like five-year-old Jack was in our room telling a story.
One of the questions that Emma Donoghue answered was where she got the idea for Room. She said she had gotten the idea after the Friztl abduction was uncovered and the son Felix had never before seen the outside world. She decided to place her story in an ordinary town in USA, with a blue-collar, white male, and a plain unassuming shed in the backyard. It was after she had delivered the manuscript to her editor that Jaycee Dugard was discovered, whose abduction took place in an ordinary town with a plain ol’ garage in the back garden.
Ironic coincidence, but Emma stressed that she didn’t want the story to be about the captor, Old Nick. She very much wanted to tell Ma and Jack’s story: how Ma coped, how she raised Jack, and the bond between parent and child. In a Behind the Book interview, Emma said as “appalling though much of the material I’d been researching was, it did one good thing for me: it reminded me how much kids are at the mercy of those who look after them, and what a holy duty we have to give them both the love and freedom that they need.”
I don’t know what else to say in praise of the book… but here are some review quotes that I wholeheartedly agree with:
“What gives the novel its startling authenticity is Donoghue’s bold decision to tell the story through Jack’s eyes.” — The Globe and Mail
“From the outside looking in, life in the room is claustrophobic enough to make a reader’s skin crawl, just as it is for Ma…” — MacLean’s Magazine
“… it’s a tribute to human resourcefulness and resilience and extremity, and a stirring portrait of a mother’s devotion.” – The Toronto Star
Full disclosure: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes. This situation did not affect my review in any way, shape or form.