Wednesday, August 10, 2011


A Book Review

I recently purchased a copy of ROOM, the recent (late last year) best seller by Emma Donoghue. In a non-spoiler-style nutshell, it is the story of a young woman (Ma) and her child Jack who are held captive in an 11' x 11' room - with heavy emphasis on how this limited environment has shaped and affected young Jack.

OK. As a reader who tends NOT to skim, preferring to read every word and feel the full effect of the writing - I was having a tough time by page 50. The story is told in first person from the perspective of the 5-year-old Jack. Though he is an extremely intelligent child whose Ma has done a remarkable job of teaching and raising him, his language is very childlike. His language, grammar, and sometimes his vocabulary made for a pretty difficult slog. I felt like I was reading Notes from Underground all over again. Yes, I exaggerate, but the read was disrupting the flow of the story for me. Maybe I'm just lazy, maybe I'm getting old and crotchety, but I just didn't have the patience for it.

However, I was enjoying the story SO MUCH I decided to hit my Audible account and download the audio book. (Cop Out!)

This changed the flow and the meter of the read entirely. Not only was the voice talent used for the audio book excellent, but the added clarity to Jack's speaking style helped to better convey his intentions as he spoke.

Now that I had found a way to comfortably absorb the book, I couldn't take my headphones out (and occasionally couldn't put down the hard copy book). The first 2/3 of the book were riveting. Ms. Donoghue pulls you into Jack's head, presenting his strange world as an almost idyllic place. Since his birth, Jack's mother has sacrificed herself completely to his protection, shielding him from their situation and providing him with a remarkable upbringing as close to normal as she can manage. She puts their health and Jack's mental stimulation and development first without fail. She creates an almost fantasy-like world that allows him to grow and understand much of the "real" world without raising the questions of where they are and why. Her answers allow Jack to stay protected within his own natural blanket of naivety as he grows. There is nothing in their simple, limited space that Jack doesn't have an answer for. All the while Donoghue manages not to pull any punches as she describes the disturbing events going on around Jack – despite his own inability to understand them.

Though the book shifts gears, dropping almost back to an idle about 2/3 of the way through, the author doesn't lose you. The pages that follow bring you deeper into the characters and help to further illustrate their tragedy and illuminate the amazing preparation and protection provided by Jack's mother. Even though this shift was a let down (a bit like the moment the roller coaster levels off and begins to slow), after the fact, I don't feel the book could have been completed meaningfully without them.

ROOM is a wonderfully insightful, often beautiful and sweet, often dark and disturbing look at our world and human nature through the untainted eyes of a 5-year-old child - and from the walls of his 11' x 11' universe. I highly recommend it.

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