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Emma Donoghue - Room Legolas Send a noteboard - 15/12/2010 09:15:16 PM
Wow, I'm on a roll, aren't I? Three reviews in three days... but then this book and the Ishiguro were fairly short books, and I suppose I should make the reading binge pay off while it lasts. :P

Room was one of the nominees for this year's Man Booker Prize, which might explain why my library actually had it already. Since I'd read Larry's interesting review of it, and was intrigued, the decision to read it was quickly made. I just reread that review now, so as to not go over the same ground too much, and I agree with much of it, but strongly disagree with one statement which, so Larry tells us, a number of other reviewers have made.

The novel is told from the viewpoint of a five-year old boy named Jack, who was born and spent every minute of his existence in the room where his mother was locked up by her kidnapper and tormentor, seven years earlier. Only after his fifth birthday does Jack learn that there is in fact a world "Outside", and that many of the things he sees on TV are in fact real. The most notable aspect of this book - its unique selling proposition, if I may employ such a crudely commercial term - is no doubt this notion, and the way Jack refers to various objects - Wardrobe, Bed, Room itself - as if there exists only one of them. In the latter half of the book, after Jack and his mother manage to escape from Room, his worldview is shaken to its core as he tries to adapt to all the new things and all the people. Inevitably, that also means that part of the story is less unique, as Jack's way of speaking and thinking evolves to something less out of the ordinary.

Apparently, many reviewers feel that this latter half is weaker or less interesting. I strongly disagree. It's less unique, yes, and therefore perhaps less memorable, but I actually think it's better written and more interesting. After all, the strength of that first half lies mostly just within a few brilliant ideas - the isolation, the "room" vs. "Room" thing - being developed in a more than competent way. But in the second half, things are less obvious and clear-cut, there are quite simply many more possibilities, and I for one am more impressed by Donoghue's navigating through those and ending the novel in a satisfying way.

I have to agree with two minor points of criticism made by Larry. (So much for trying to tread different paths, eh? But I can hardly leave them unsaid if I want to write a fair review.) Which are, firstly, Jack's extreme precociousness, even if one takes into account his extremely unusual circumstances growing up. Yes, he's spent every waking moment of his existence with his mother, being intellectually stimulated and challenged in various ways almost constantly, resulting in impressive intellectual skills but lacking social ones (and some other deficiencies that I dare say most people wouldn't even have thought of, I certainly hadn't, such as difficulty with spatial recognition, estimating distances and the like). And yes, his mother sometimes tells him things that no mother in other circumstances would ever tell a five-year-old, because he's the only person she can talk to. But even so. Secondly, on a few (fortunately rare) occasions, Donoghue seems to be using Jack to express opinions on modern society that are too blatantly her own. (Though it has to be said, the scene in which Jack uncomprehendingly watches academics discussing his experiences on TV is a brilliant satire on overly academic discourse, as short as it is.)

Something that for me personally was at least as interesting as Jack's evolution and the issues of child development, however, was the depiction of his mother (who is never named, she's just Ma). The incredible feat of keeping her child occupied every waking moment year in year out, trying to raise him literally entirely on her own, and the inability to let out her feelings and frustrations except through the occasional cryptic comment or day of being "Gone", as Jack calls her depressed moods. And then she is out, free again after seven years spent in that one room while appreciating how horrible that is, unlike Jack who's never known anything else. Still only twenty-six, having lost all those years of her life and wanting to pick up the pieces of her old life, but now having a child who's never been more than a few feet away from her - and who is frightened by this new world and wants nothing more than to go back to Room.

That, in my opinion, is the real tour de force here, or at least what made the strongest impression on me. Donoghue walks a thin line here, wanting to show the formerly unsuspected strength a mother can find when her child really needs it, without making Ma an exaggeratedly perfect heroine, and all this through the eyes of a child no less, but she pulls it off splendidly.

Room is a great book and more than worthy of the critical acclaim it had. Its premise is obviously rather disturbing, which would make me hesitate to recommend it to some people, but I warmly recommend it to everyone who isn't frightened off by that.
This message last edited by Legolas on 15/12/2010 at 09:15:35 PM
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Emma Donoghue - Room - 15/12/2010 09:15:16 PM 3241 Views
I listened to her on NPR the other day. - 15/12/2010 10:38:16 PM 662 Views
I'll admit I've purposefully been ignoring that book - 16/12/2010 06:26:52 PM 631 Views
I just finished reading it. - 30/03/2011 11:09:09 PM 740 Views

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