Room by Emma Donoghue.
3.99 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.
First my mother recommended it to me. I was too busy to read it then, passing it back to her unread and ignored. Then some years later, I saw the 2016 Oscars and suddenly I wanted Room. I wanted to surround myself in its plot, enthral myself within its world, connect with its characters, understand its complexities.
In between my many books and graphic novels I am reading, including the couple each month for the two book clubs I attend, I picked up Room – once again passed along to me from my mother – and settled down for several days, ready to become enraptured in Donoghue’s world.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have by far read better books, and a four-hour reading stint of Room leaves you feeling strangely claustrophobic and slightly creeped-out – but it’s a stint filled with hope and belonging and a sense of freedom.
Room’s premise surrounds a five-year-old boy, Jack, and his mother, “Ma”, whom are both trapped in a single room – a shed to be exact – in a creepy old perv’s back garden (Old Nick, who is in fact not that old but by a kid’s standards is actually ancient). Jack is the narrator, describing objects as people, with a tendency for OCD (he counts his teeth when he’s anxious or afraid) and a knack for knowing big words, but not what they mean.
I hadn’t read any reviews before I started reading Room, although I knew by this point what the story was about. Based on true events such as the Fritzl case, a lot of negative reviews I read after I finished the book stated that there should have been more “action”, that the story would have served better being told from the mother’s side, rather than a pretty unreliable narrator who steers us away from the nitty gritty, rather than towards it.
I have to say, I 100% disagree with these reviews. I think comments like this says more about the reviewers, rather than Donoghue’s writing style.
We want to see the violence, if only because we are a race that thrives on it. We want to see the torment, the struggle, the aftermath, the healing, the understanding – but that’s not what we need from this story, not from Jack.
Realistically, Donoghue could no more place the point of view in the hands of the mother than a male author can write about the painfulness of childbirth – to talk about something as though you had experienced it, when really you were simply a passer-by, is to cheat those who have experienced the trauma. Donoghue couldn’t describe the scene from the mother’s point of view, because it didn’t happen to her.
Choosing to write in the point of view of Jack, it is not actually the sordid details we need to read about. Room is not a book about a captor and his captive. It is about finding meaning in a place. Finding belonging somewhere, even if that place isn’t really right for you.
The reason I found Room to be an excellent read is not because it comes from the voice of a five-year-old, but because of the story he tells and how he tells it. Does the narration read like a five-year-old boy wrote it? Well, no, because the author is inherently an adult female – and yet Donoghue manages to capture the innocence, the learning, the confusion, and the understanding of a child stuck in a place he only knows as his whole world.
I see Room as a metaphor for our minds. Those of us who are judgemental and narrow-minded – don’t those people create their very own Rooms, filled with questions and doubt and fear of the outside world, of the unknown?
Does Room teach us to open ourselves a little more, to embrace what we do not know, what we’re not sure of? Doesn’t it remind us that our inner child, or our own children, teach us every day that fear is just in the mind? Aren’t most five-year-olds fearless?
Could you be Jack? Your mind keeping you away from the world, keeping you safe in your very own Room?
And if you are – if you are kept in your own Room by your own mind – are you then the captor, or the captive? Do you know the code to open your door, to let yourself out into the world?
An enthralling book I wouldn’t read again, because it reminds me too much of closing into myself, but everyone should read Room at least once. Or don’t. The choice is yours.