Room by Emma Donoghue

I read Room in January this year after one of my best friends recommended it to me. She inhaled the whole thing in a day and for me that’s the sign of a really good book. I knew the film was coming out in February so I put it at the top of my priority list so that I could read it before catching it on the big screen. This book is wonderful and I highly recommend it! It’s one of the few books I’ve given a five star rating to on GoodReads in the past few years. I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I’ll keep it quite general but please read it!
First of all, it’s all told from the perspective of a five year old, Jack, which is completely different from any book I’ve ever read. I’ll admit that, at first, it is frustrating reading the voice of a five year old but once you settle into little Jack’s world, you realise he is one of the most rewarding narrators you’ll ever encounter. I also think there’s something to be said about the frustration I felt. My irritation at not being able to wholly grasp Jack’s world because of his limited understanding and his struggle to articulate himself reflects Jack’s frustration as a young child struggling to understand the world around him. Instead of opting for an omniscient voice, Donoghue allows you to fully immerse yourself into the secret life of a five year old. It reminded slightly me of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in this sense. A lot of the mystery in these books stems from the innocent unreliability of their narrators.
The novel deals with the very harrowing subject of abduction and, to a certain extent, the concept of Stockholm syndrome through the naive eyes of little Jack. It could even make a fantastic fictional case study for sociology students. The novel sparked a lot of questions in my mind: How much are we affected by the people around us growing up? Is motherly love the most important thing in the world?
It probes for a lot of debate around social norms. For example, Jack never cuts his hair so when he finally experiences the real world for the first time, people think he’s a little girl. And Ma breastfeeds Jack for the first five years of his life. Apparently a lot of readers have been shocked and felt uncomfortable when Jack asks his mum for “some” and lifts up her shirt to breastfeed but that opens a whole other can of some badass feminist worms that I should leave for another day. When asked about it, Donoghue said it just “seemed entirely natural.” It made me wonder how much of parenting is natural and how much is social expectations? Do we have to dress our children a certain way, cut their hair, stop breastfeeding at a specific age and make sure their talking and walking at the right times too? I’ve spoke to real mothers about this kind of thing and I think the answer is that every child and every parent is different with a different set of needs so why shouldn’t and why wouldn’t Ma nurture her son in the most natural way a mother can in their extreme circumstances?
Okay, I’ve ended up ranting about societal expectations and gender norms more than I planned to and I’ve gone a little off course. Room is a unique book and it deals with such a horrifying and upsetting event in a beautiful and poignant way. Every minute detail is bursting with meaning. As for the film, it was also fantastic but cut way too much out of the book (as always) and didn’t have a patch on the original story but it’s worth seeing for Brie Larsen’s stunning performance. Ultimately, I can’t commend Emma Donoghue enough for her creation and I can’t wait to read another one of her books soon.

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