Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue
2nd February, 2016
Room is the story of a mother and child confined to a locked garden shed. The novel deals with the psychological implications on the mind of a child born and raised in captivity, as a result of which he cannot comprehend the idea of an outside world and a mother’s struggle to escape from their abductor.
This is a book I read years ago. But perhaps a review of the book is necessary along with the movie’s release. I glanced through the book recently to see whether the movie depicts the harsh realities in the book. And I do think it is a brilliant adaptation, so feel free to take the easy way out by watching it. Or rather, read the book too, because of the detailed narration through the eyes of a five year old. This review may contain spoilers.
“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.”
Jack and his mother live in a room which has all the bare necessities to stay alive. Jack’s world consists of his mother, himself, the inanimate objects such as Chair, Table, Rug etc in the room and Old Nick who visits them and brings food. The world is innocent and bright in the eyes of Jack, having fun playing, reading, exercising with his mom and watching TV in Room. Through his innocence we are presented the terrible situation in Room. When Jack innocently counts how many times the bed springs creak when Old Nick visits them, our stomachs churn at the prospect of a helpless woman getting raped very close to her child. Through simple dialogues, eavesdropping and a child’s thoughts, Donoghue prises open the horrifying happenings in the Room.
Emma Donoghue’s choice of Jack, a five year old boy as the narrator is perhaps the strongest point of her work. The limited dimension of a garden shed, where Jack and his mother live (or are forcefully kept hidden) makes the writing in Room a brave attempt. Emma has successfully navigated through both these limitations, of lack of maturity of the narrator and physical size of the environment, to deliver a stunning story.
“In the world I notice persons are nearly always stressed and have no time…I don’t know how persons with jobs do the jobs and all the living as well…I guess the time gets spread very thin like butter all over the world, the roads and houses and playgrounds and stores, so there’s only a little smear of time on each place, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit.”
The novel is complex in the fact that though the mother loathes Room, Jack being born into it and having no contact with any other living person, loves it and does not feel trapped. Her frustration at making Jack agree to an escape is beautifully captured. Even more poignantly captured is the dilemma the mother faces on escaping when her son, unaccustomed to interactions with other people yearns to go back to the Room and wants to regain her undivided attention. Room is heart breaking and very disturbing in every way possible. Perhaps its effects are enhanced because of the narration from the eyes of a five year old.
Room is the story of survival with the message never to lose hope. It is the story of an escape – from the past, the present and the grief that accompanies it. It is a mother’s brave attempt to let her child (who cannot comprehend ‘Outside’) to help her escape. The story does not end with the escape, but continues with how a woman who has been locked up for years in a shed and bore a child (two, one dead) on being raped by her abductor comes to terms with the tragedies she has encountered and struggles to move forward in life. And last, but not the least, it is the story of how Jack is groomed to lead a normal social life on the Outside than in his beloved Room.
Title : Room
Author : Emma Donoghue
Publisher : Picador
Published : 2010
Language : English
Pages : 416
Rating : 4/5
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About the Author
Emma Donoghue is an Irish-Canadian playwright, literary historian, novelist, and screenwriter. Her most famous work is Room which was shortlisted for Orange Prize and the Booker prize in 2010. She has written many short story collections such as Kissing the Witch and The Woman who Gave Birth to Rabbits. Her most recent novel is Frog Music that came out in 2014 and a collection of plays in 2015.