365 Days of Women Writers

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Day 9: Room by Emma Donoghue

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I was in the bookstore yesterday looking for something to read and Room was on the display wall. As someone who can be completely oblivious to what’s going on in the world of books, I had completely missed it getting shortlisted for the Booker. I bought it on cover appeal basically. (The cover on the right below – I wouldn’t have touched the US cover with a ten-foot pole.)

If you’ve managed to miss the talk as well, I suggest you go buy the book now and skip the rest of the post because I think it’s the sort of book that the less you know about it, the more impact it will have (and you all trust me right? It’s very, very good despite the Booker thing (which is usually the kiss of death) and there will be SPOILERS.)

The story is narrated by Jack, a boy who has just turned five and the whole of his world is the room he shares with Ma. It quickly becomes clear that things are not right.

God’s yellow face isn’t coming in today. Ma says he’s having trouble squeezing through the snow.

“What snow?”

“See,” she says pointing up.

There’s a little bit of light at Skylight’s top, the rest of her is all dark. TV snow’s white but the real isn’t that’s weird. “Why doesn’t it fall on us?”

“Because it’s on the outside.”

“In Outer Space? I wish it was inside so I can play with it.”

His world is so small each and every piece of furniture in the room is unique, his bed is Bed, named and a friend to him. A book like this lives or dies on the voice of the child. And Donoghue makes Jack a real success. He sees the world in a way that is foreign to us. Donoghue doesn’t bury us in exposition, but instead lets us discover their situation through Jack’s eyes. The reader can interpret far more than Jack and the disconnect creates the horror and tension in the narrative:

Lunch is bean salad, my second worst favorite. After lunch we do Scream every day but not Saturdays or Sundays. We clear our throats and climb up on Table to be nearer Skylight, holding hands not to fall. We say “On your mark, get set, go,” and then we open wide our teeth and shout holler howl yowl shreik screech scream the loudest possible. Today I’m the most loudest ever because my lungs are stretching from being five.

This book was clearly inspired by the horrific Fritzl case. Ma has been held captive in the soundproof shed which is the titular Room for seven years and raped almost daily. When theie captor loses his job, she fears what will happen if he loses the house and concocts an implausbly successful escape plan. The second half of the book deals with her attempts to recover from the trauma and reconnect with her family who had moved on, and with Jack’s attempts to deal with “Outside.”

There were two aspects that didn’t ring quite true to me. The first being the escape. I couldn’t believe that it was successful. The second was that this book was set in America and while it almost fits because the setting is so vague, but every once in a while there were moments that felt false. But these are minor complaints in an excellent book.

It wasn’t until after I’d read the book and was doing my usual gawk of the front and back matter that I realized that I’d already read Kissing the Witch by Donoghue and enjoyed it quite a bit. Must not forget her again.

UK amazon link

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Written by Chance

September 26, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Posted in emma donoghue, novel