Monday, August 29, 2011
This was one of the first books I downloaded on my new Kindle, and the first book I read straight through on our trip to Alaska this summer, after trying and failing to get into The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (more on that later.) I would give it five stars, or two thumbs up, or whatever you prefer. Maybe I should come up with my own rating system. Hmm.
Synopsis (no spoilers): The story is told by Jack, a five year old boy who lives with Ma in Room. Jack has lived his entire life in Room. He believes that there is no world outside Room. Despite their confinement, Ma helps Jack to grow up as normally as possible. They have routines involving physical exercise, mental gymnastics and limited television time. Sometimes at night, the man called Old Nick comes to visit, and during those times, Jack has to sleep in Wardrobe. Jack feels safe, loved and happy in Room, but his journey truly begins when his mother tells him about the outside world, and they begin to plot to escape Room.
Review: The genius of this book is in the point of view. It is very courageous of Emma Donoghue to use a five year old narrator with such a limited worldview, but she does it brilliantly. Jack's voice is instantly comfortable to the reader, and I found myself falling into his point of view in no time at all. He is imaginative and curious, brave and heroic, intensely loving toward his mother and loyal to the characters he sees on TV. The reader loves him and feels protective of him from the first page. Donoghue somehow makes Jack's voice, his feelings, his very existence feel like a miracle to be cherished.
Though Jack sees his mother as no less than a goddess, through subtext Donoghue still manages to convey Ma as a woman with her own pain, suffering and flaws. All the adults in the novel are portrayed equally well, further proving Donoghue's genius for subtext. A whole world is going on over Jack's head, and the reader sees it clearly even though the narrator does not.
This novel is sometimes difficult to read, but I think the story of a woman and child in captivity is both more real and easier to swallow from Jack's point of view. It's a novel that will keep you thinking, about love and pain, about assimilation, and about what a child really needs during his formative years.
Of all the books I read this summer, this one stuck with me the most. If you haven't read it, pick up a copy, and if you have, please post a comment letting me know what you thought. If you'd like more information about the book, see the author's interactive website: