I finished reading Room in three days. Now that might not sound like much of a feat, but it was actually closer to 48 hours (which if you know me still isn’t much of a feat, but with a full-time job and a million other things to do, it sounds like a challenge). After hearing Emma Donoghue read a portion of the first chapter (Oh Hey, Big City…), I of course had to start reading immediately. Her reading was perfect and the Irish tilt of her American accent gave voice to the characters in my head as I was reading.
From the various Booker Prize winning novels I must say that I feel those that make the shortlist and those that ultimately win are distinctly different. For me it is much easier to read the shortlist novels and they are almost always invariably more enjoyable. The one exception so far is Margaret Atwood’s Blind Assassin (Book 27: The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood), but perhaps that is because I thoroughly enjoyed the uniqueness of the three distinct stories weaving into one.
I’ve discussed the book after the jump (I swore I’d never say that) so there aren’t any spoilers. I recommend this book to everyone and even though I knew what was going to happen because of the book reading, it was well worth the read (and now I’ve added Slammerkin her other bestseller on my list of books to read which you can see a real-time version here.)
Room is the story of Jack, told from his five-year old perspective. At the book reading and in the interview questions at the back of the book Donoghue said she hoped in telling this story from Jack’s point of view it would put a fresh light on this horrible situation, and believe me it does. It is perhaps a bit sterile, as Donoghue meant it, but it works as Ma protected Jack, sheltered Jack, the only way she knew how.
Jack is five years old and has never been outside of Room. His entire world is Ma and the various things (Rug, Toilet, Remote, TV, Bed, etc.) that she has been able to provide. Although this is Jack’s story, as we learn the more we read, it begins with Ma and her kidnapping at the age of 19. Old Nick kidnapped Ma and held her hostage in a one room sound-proof garden shed for eight years, which ultimately becomes Jack’s entire world once he is born. Throughout the first half of the book (Presents, Unlying, and Dying) we are in the room with Jack and Ma, and occasionally their captor Old Nick, but the climax of the novel is when Ma plans an escape from the room by having Jack feign illness and then death.
Once in Outside, as Jack calls it, everything changes. We still see the world from Jack’s perspective, but we see how overwhelming the world is. We experience a shopping mall, and a park, and a car ride, for the first time from a five-year old’s perspective who has an adult vocabulary.
I won’t go into any of the details about what happens outside Room, but suffice to say the thriller portion of the book is not only in the first half, you want to laugh and you want to cry as you’re reading the novel. I will say, there are critics and readers who criticize Donoghue for her portrayal of the characters Ma, Grandma, and Grandpa (and praise her for Steppa), but I thought her portrayals were spot-on. She portrayed real people, although they were not the protagonist, these characters are all real, they make mistakes, they say the wrong things and do the wrong things, but they’re real. None of them are perfect which humanizes them and makes a great contrast to the sterility of what occurred in Room.
I will say this, if you’re even remotely interested in reading Room after reading this review (or before) read the quotes on the book cover (front and back) and they’re all eerily perfect for the story and Donoghue’s writing.