Saturday, January 1, 2011

Redux #42 - "Room" by Emma Donoghue

A woman on the bus saw me reading Geek Love and asked me if I'd read Room (2010) by Emma Donoghue. I hadn't even heard of it, but I figured she must have an interest in good literature if she'd read Geek Love. So I did an Amazon search when I got to work, read some good reviews, and that was enough for me.

Room is a story told by a five-year-old boy named Jack whose whole world consists of a small room where he lives with his mother. Jack doesn't fully understand his situation, but the reader gradually comes to understand that his mother was kidnapped and has been locked in a shed for seven years for the sexual gratification of her captor. Jack was born in the room, and as he gets older, he starts questioning and learning about his situation more and more. The first half of the book involves Jack describing his life, routine, and perceptions in "Room." Jack does not know that there is a world outside with other kids, fresh air, and animals, and everything he thinks everything he sees on his television set is fake.

The second half of the book focuses on Jack's and his mother's transition when they suddenly become free. Jack has to adjust to a scary, new world that he barely knew existed. Jack is a kid who has never experienced stairs, never interacted with anyone besides his mother, and never had to see farther than the 10 or so feet of his Room. He has a lot to learn and experience, and the world is intensely interested in him.

I found Room to be a quick and interesting read. I thought Donoghue did a very good job with the psychology of Jack and his mother. They were believable and interesting people, and their reactions and thoughts to their situations felt very real and understandable. It was different to get inside the head of a kid, especially a kid with such a unique perspective on the world.

I often feel that the news leaps on stories of cute, white children or young women being kidnapped and sexually assaulted, in a disturbingly fascinated and exploitative manner. For instance, I detest Nancy Grace because she pretends to be something of a victim's advocate, but all I've ever seen her do is revel in the details of victims' stories for her own gain. Thus I tend to be hypersensitive and avoid stories that involve rape or some titillating sexual exploitation for no other sake than to gain people's interest. And I was wary of this storyline in Room as well. This story obviously parallels some of the stories we've heard about recently in the news where women were kidnapped and remained trapped for years, bearing their children in captivity. However, because this story is told from Jack's perspective and focuses more on his adjustment, it did not bother me as much as it might have.

The best thing about Room is the character of Jack and how he describes and learns about his world in his own words. I thought the book was interesting, sometimes suspenseful, and although I don't see this novel turning into a classic, I'd recommend it.

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