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I'm truly sorry I did not like it
Room, by Emma Donoghue is narrated by a young boy, Jack, who has just “celebrated” his fifth birthday. For reasons you learn pretty quickly in the book, Jack has never known a human being other than his mother, who he calls “Ma.”
A mother's nightmare
I have to admit, I’ve never been fond of books narrated by children, but Room, for me, was especially odious. “Ma” has created characters out of all the objects in “Room” and Jack refers to them as though they are real, living, breathing persons. There’s “Wardrobe” and “Rug” and “Plant” and “Meltedy Spoon.” One page of this is bad enough, but an entire book? It took a lot of determination for me to finish the thing. Here is Jack describing a typical day in "Room":
We have thousands of things to do every morning, like give Plant a cup of water in Sink for no spilling, then put her back on her saucer on Dresser.... I count one hundred cereal and waterfall the milk that’s nearly the same white as the bowls, no splashing, we thank Baby Jesus."
Well, a paragraph of that here and there might have worked, but a whole half of a book? Not on your life. And this is a kid who can sing along to Eminem and Woody Guthrie music videos. He knows the latest dances. He listens to people speak on TV. His own mother, the only person with whom he converses, speaks normally. He uses words like “rappelling” and “hippopotami” with ease. Heck, he even knows more about the fall of the Berlin Wall than many Germans. So what’s with the almost unintelligible baby talk? I know he’s only five, but other than his horrendous speech, he seems to be a very precocious five. And please. How many rundowns of “Dora the Explorer” or “Spongebob Squarepants” can one reader take without wanting to throw the book across the room?
The story of Room is split into two parts, the first part occurring in “Room” and the second part occurring “Outside." The transition from "Room" to "Outside" is, to put it mildly, totally ludicrous. For a kid who doesn’t even believe the outside world exists, to do what Jack did is beyond belief.
Once we realize the basic premise of "Room," one would think it would take on a particularly sinister quality. Instead, it’s painfully boring and slow going and almost totally lacking in suspense. Because Donoghue confines her point of view, at least in the first half of the book, to Jack, the insight we get is painfully mundane, and well, boring. The second half feels forced and shallow and contrived.
Some people have made the remark that Donoghue captures perfectly the voice of a young child. I don’t think she does. However, for the sake of argument, let’s just say that Donoghue does capture a five-year-old’s speech pattern perfectly. How many books written by five-year-olds do you find engrossing and enlightening? My bet is none. Five-year-olds can be cute in small doses and of course we love them and want the best for them, but let’s be truthful, they really aren’t very insightful or interesting for long periods of time, and neither is Jack.
I also felt Donoghue glossed over the difficult transition that takes place at the about the book's midpoint. I felt the second half of the book lacked depth just as the first half did, though in a different way. For reasons known only to Donoghue, she chose not to explore the rich store of human emotions she could have mined. There was a curious disconnect between the intense trauma “Ma” and Jack would have had to suffer and the blitheness with which Donoghue relates their story.
And what of the unnatural bond formed between Jack and “Ma” while in “Room?” Yes, I realize that two people in their situation are going to form a deep bond, but once that situation changes, then some separation and setting of boundaries is going to be necessary in order to promote mental and emotional health. But Donoghue never explores this facet of “Ma’s” and Jack’s life, though clearly, she realized it exists. At one point, Jack says of himself, “Maybe I’m a human, but I’m a me-and-Ma as well.” That outlook might have served him well in “Room” but it’s a dangerous one to cultivate in “Outside.”
Donoghue took a real risk with Room and I applaud her for her courage. I think this is going to be a very polarizing book – people will probably either love it or hate it. They will feel it worked wonderfully or they will feel it didn’t work at all. Obviously, for me, it didn’t work at all. I thought the premise was wonderful, but I felt Donoghue failed to deliver. I honestly can’t understand how this book even made the Booker longlist, let alone the shortlist. I expect more depth and insight from a Booker nominated work. Do I think Donoghue was a lazy storyteller with Room? I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I do think she capitalized on gimmicks and topicality, and I was very disappointed. In the end, the whole thing felt like a cheap trick to me, and after reading it, I felt like I had to go take a long, hot shower.
This book will strike at every mother's heart as she imagines what she would do in the same circumstances. Ma was extremely creative in bringing up Jack in "the room" at her young age and there's no way that I could have done what she did and still stay sane and hopeful about life. This book made me cry, laugh and marvel at the human spirit. I had to put the book down for a day as I didn't want it to end. I was educated through this book and am using the creativity shown in the book to now play with my grandchildren. This book is so good on many levels, but I hope people don't not read it because of the subject matter. Everyone can benefit from reading this wonderful novel.
This book is difficult to categorize, but it would be fair to call it a thriller. However, while most thrillers end with the resolution of a situation, in Room, the situation is resolved about midway through the book. In the "bonus reading" (my own term for the second half of this book) the author is able to explore the concepts that readers often wonder about at the end of a thriller - most significantly, what was the psychological effect on the participants? She manages to present a consistent, intelligent, and plausible analysis for many of the characters, and the result is a very satisfying and compelling read.
Intense, heartbreaking, Frightening
What hold could Old Nick have over Ma that would make that room her world? Why didn't she just leave? Or maybe she wasn't able to leave?
Jack's fifth birthday definitely wouldn't be what a normal five-year-old would be delighted with, but Jack was happy to spend the day with his Ma in their ordinary, same-as-always routine. They spent every day in the "room" with the food and clothing that Old Nick provided for them.
Ma doesn't allow Old Nick to see Jack but she never tells Jack why. Ma and Jack's days are creatively spent inventing things, measuring everything in the room that has been Ma's space for the past seven years, reading books and changing the characters to suit them, and watching the clock so they know when it is time to eat or sleep. They never leave their "room," and Jack really doesn't know any better or know anything about the outside world except what his Ma tells him when they read books.
As much as Ma tries to protect and shelter Jack, he begins to question what is beyond the walls they live in. Ma tries to divert Jack's attention to other things, but sometimes it is unavoidable......especially the night when Jack overheard a conversation between Ma and Old Nick about him and the life Old Nick provides for her.
One comment made by Old Nick that stuck in my mind was: "I don't think you appreciate how good you've got it here," "Do you?" Page 69 To me that would be highly questionable....how good could life be simply living in a room and never going outside?
I grew to hate Old Nick and how he treated both of them. When you find out the "whole" story, you won't want to stop reading.
This book is about fear, abuse, control, a mother's love, and wanting the best for your child. At first you may want to put the book down, but don't do it....you will share Ma's feelings of fear for Old Nick and her dependence on him and also the heartbreak of Jack's acceptance of the only life he has known. You will fall in love with sweet, innocent, literal Jack, and you will think about both characters and their experience long after you turn the last page.
To me this was actually a "creative" thriller...excellent storyline. I really liked the book. 5/5