Posted on | August 24, 2010 | 14 Comments
This is probably one of the most gripping books I’ve read this year. I almost feel guilty that I didn’t take Audrey Niffenegger’s advice, scrolled across the book cover:
Room is a book to read in one sitting.
That’s what working life does to you, I guess. I did read the last fifty pages or so at work though, ignoring the people who asked me if I was there to work or read. Hopefully, even they figured it was a rhetorical question. Anyway, as I couldn’t agree more with the rest of the quote, I thought I might as well share it:
When it’s over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lingers for days.
Room is a novel “triggered” by Felix Fritzl, the five year old son of Elisabeth Fritzl. Elisabeth was locked in the basement by her father for twenty-four years, raped repeatedly and had seven children. Three of them were imprisoned with her, and the five year old had no clue about the world beyond the basement they were locked in.
Normally, one would expect such a book to be a money-making gimmick, with the author milking the tragedy of another family. Realising that it was narrated by the five year old might add to that sentiment. However, with Room, Donoghue creates a wonderful “unputdownable” novel, with great insights and contemplations from the five year old, Jack, who was under the impression that the world existed in his eleven feet by eleven feet room he lived in with his mother (Ma), and had no clue as to the reality beyond the locked door and the skylight.
Ma, a twenty-seven year old, protects him and tries to bring him up right, by schooling him with the limited resources she has at her disposal. So, Jack’s narration is actually reasonably articulate, although it is still from the viewpoint of a five year old, who has never experienced life outside the closed quarters of the room, and initially thinks himself and his mother are the only two human beings in the world. He has “friends” in the television, but as far as he’s concerned, that’s not real.
This morning it’s Dora, yippee. She’s on a boat that nearly crashes into a ship, we have to wave our arms and shout, “Watch out,” but Ma doesn’t. Ships are just TV and so is the sea except when our poos and letters arrive. Or maybe that actually stop being real the minute they get there.
Animals are TV except ants and Spider and Mouse, but he’s gone back now. Germs are real, and blood. Boys are TV but they kind of look like me, the me in Mirror that isn’t real either, just a picture.
In a way, it’s almost a relief that the book is written through the eyes of the child, and not the mother, for, if it was written through the eyes of the mother, it might have been one of the most heart-wrenchingly painful and scary reads. The innocence of Jack alleviates the horror of this book a great deal, as he doesn’t understand some of the more delicate issues that his mother has to deal with, in her captivity.
When Old Nick creaks Bed, I listen and count fives on my fingers, tonight it’s 217 creaks. I always have to count till he makes that gaspy sound and stops. I don’t know what would happen if I didn’t count, because I always do.
After he turns five, Ma finally tells him about Outside, but unsurprisingly, Jack doesn’t believe his mother initially, and who can blame them? If you’ve known only one world for five years, and you’re suddenly “unlied” to, and told about the wonders of a whole new world which exists, but you were never aware of, how would you react? It’s too strange, too surreal, to be true, and I really felt for Jack when he was told the truth, and subsequently become the focal point of his mother’s grand escape plan, which “scaved” (a “wordsandwich” meaning scared and brave) him!
More themes about society and values emerge as the book progresses, and each one evokes an emotion of either sadness or anger or sympathy. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but from the start of the book, when you’re made aware of the situation, you can’t help but hope and pray for a happy ending – no adult and no child should ever have to go through that kind of hell.
I was utterly hooked to this book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ve not read a story like this before, and I doubt I’ll come across one even remotely as engrossing and irrepressible as this work by Donoghue.
Have you read Room? Or, any other book by Donoghue? What did you think? Would you recommend any of the others?
And, what do you think are the odds on this book making the Booker shortlist?