Book Review : “Room” by Emma Donoghue (take one)

I read this book in about three hours yesterday — I couldn’t put it down! — so this is going to based on that quick read. Right now I’m rereading it, more slowly, to pick up what I missed.

5yo Jack has spent his entire life in Room with his Ma. There they play games, read, watch TV, cook, do dishes and laundry — all in an 11×11 room. (I have to say, the games Ma and Jack make up for life in Room are extremely impressive. In the acknowledgments, the author thanks a lot of child psychologists, and I can see why.) Jack does not realize they are held captive by Old Nick; he kidnapped Ma 7 years ago when she was 19. Jack loves Room and everything in it, but Ma wants to escape. And eventually they do, emerging in a world Jack has never imagined. Nothing could have prepared him for reality outside Room and both he and Ma have a difficult time assimilating.

The book is divided into several sections; basically it’s their life in Room, the plan to escape, escaping, and two sections on life outside Room. It’s incredibly intense — I kept telling myself, just one more section and I’ll go to sleep but I just couldn’t put it down. It’s not a long read, and it’s told from Jack’s point of view and in Jack’s voice. That took a while to get used to, but eventually I understood.

The plot is so mind-boggling — especially for a newly-postpartum mom — that I was in tears a few times. Jack and Ma have never been apart, and their devotion is obvious. Ma wants to get Jack out of Room and yet she regrets the difficulties he has once they’re outside. When Jack was young, she allowed him to believe that life outside Room was mostly Outer Space — TV is known as different planets — and he cannot believe that the world is real, even when Ma tells him that she’s been hiding the truth from him. He has never experienced sunlight, stairs, or shoes and he’s understandably overwhelmed.

And yet, Ma is also overwhelmed after seven years as a sex slave and prisoner. She has to work through her own difficulties, and doesn’t always make the best choices with her newfound freedom. Once she’s in the world, she has more to think about than just Jack, and is reunited with old family members, some supportive and some not. She is unaccustomed to the world and all its stressors.

I think it’s a book that will stay in my mind — it is different than any other book I’ve read, and incredibly intense. As a mother, it’s a difficult read, and I sympathize with Ma through Jack’s descriptions. Jack is sweet and lovable and confused. I just wanted to hug him — yet he wouldn’t understand why I was hugging him, or he’d think I was hugging him because I love him.

I recommend it. I’ll probably write more after I finish it. Again.


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