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Room by Emma Donoghue

Little, Brown and Company, 2010.

321 pages (hardcover)

Room by Emma Donoghue is brilliant.

I read Room because of all the brouhaha–and the premise is intriguing, is it not?  A five year olds perspective of captivity, of life in Room where his mother was kidnapped and is kept. To tell the truth, I didn’t know much more than this about the story, and that it was written as a five year old might see and tell. I didn’t read the inside jacket cover (which is odd for me).

I am not really sure what wouldn’t be a spoiler in a synopsis if I were to have known more. I have to say, I enjoyed Room much more for not having any plot summary. I skimmed reviews looking for key words. Wanting to see what some of the people’s responses were, how they starred it, whether they would recommend it and for a particular audience or no. A case of old fashioned, ‘you think I’ll like it is enough for me.’

I am not sure what I could say that others haven’t already said in reviews. Which may be why tomorrow’s post is going to read like an omphaloskepsis “review.” Today: a few sure-to-be spoiler-free paragraphs:

Room is brilliant. If you have been following this blog the past couple days, you know that I had a hard time getting into the read and I didn’t feel compelled to turn pages—until ~40 pages in. After the first hurdles of adjusting to the narrator’s voice and spending a few days trying to get comfortable with being uncomfortable with the creepy tones, I was able to really get into the read. Most will jump in and have little difficulties with Room. Overall, it isn’t a terribly long read and if you haven’t read Room just dedicate an afternoon to it.

I was massively skeptical of many of the praising statements made about this book. This one in particular:  above the title on the cover, “Potent, darkly beautiful, and revelatory”—Michael Cunningham*. It was the “revelatory” that had me frowning. Keep in mind what little I knew about the story—hmm, a five year olds narrative on life in Room… Revelatory?… I didn’t know Cunningham to respond to his quote with, “if he says so, it’s likely so.” He’s since been vetted in my mind. Room is revelatory.

I tend toward the role of Reluctant Reader after I encounter so many rave reviews (shows how contrary I can be); especially those with ambiguous statements like “Room is brilliant,” and the gushing is to remark that everything an author should do to make a story riveting is well-wrought, notably crafted, exceptionally well done makes me edgy. However, having read Room, I cannot disagree. Room is a provocative read, a well-executed story.

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the world. It’s where he was born, it’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. there are endless wonders that let loose Jack’s imagination—the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells, the imaginary world projected through the TV, the coziness of Wardrobe below Ma’s clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night in case Old Nick comes.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held since she was nineteen—for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But Jack’s curiosity is building alongside her own desperation—and she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer.

Told in the poignant and funny voice of Jack, “Room” is a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child. It is a shocking, exhilarating, and riveting novel—but always deeply human and always moving. “Room” is  a place you will never forget. –inside jacket.

If the premise interests you, that should be enough to have added this the To-Be-Read pile. Those leery about reading books that make it onto Literary Prize lists. After adjusting to the narrator’s voice, the story is highly accessible; though no, it is not written at a 3rd grade reading level. Jack has a good command of bigger words—he is also potentially better at math than I am. The ideas suggested and explored are not subtle. The content is disturbing (naturally), as well as thought provoking. I can’t imagine recommending this as a book that entertains per se. And though it can be a fairly quick read, Room doesn’t even try for ‘deceptively simple’. This is not light reading, not during nor after—not to daunt any possible reader. I was reluctant to start, but am very glad that I read Room.**

* Michael Cunningham (I’ve since noted) “is the author of the novels A Home at the End of the World, Flesh and Blood, The Hours (winner of the Pen/Faulkner Award & Pulitzer Prize), and Specimen Days. He lives in New York.”~ bio @ his site.

**I non-stop talked Room to the husband through his morning and just up to the kiss at the door this morning. Thanks, darlin’.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Marie says:

    I’m planning on reading ROOM this month and I appreciate your thoughts. It’s been lingering too long on the TBR pile!

  2. I’ve read a few reviews about this book, but it’s never really moved any closer to getting on my TBR pile… until now. I’m thinking it’s your working with the word “revelatory” that did it. I’m now wondering, revelatory, how’s that?

    I’m not sure when, if ever, I’ll read this, but it’s at least moved closer to the foreground than before.

    Great review.

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