Cannonball Read III: Room by Emma Donoghue
This book is fucked up and really good.
Five year old Jack is the narrator. He turns five in the very first sentence and his stream of consciousness narration reveals a horrific scenario that is the only thing he's ever known. Seven years ago his Ma was kidnapped and has been held captive in Room. She has created a world for him through ritual and story and naming, and Jack's narration can be jarring because of this. He does not live in a room; he lives in Room. He sits on Rug after choosing something from Games Box. He uses Blue Crayon to draw. Everything in Room is a Thing and because he's a kid, Donoghue's structure works. She created something really smart by using Jack to tell the story as it's happening. His five year old voice makes everything normal because for him, it is.
Ma decides early on in the book that it's time to get out of Room. Not that she hasn't wanted to get out before, but things are changing and it needs to happen. The pace of the book is carefully formed--as Ma begins to make plans, everything starts to move. Sections of the book seemed to fly by because time is short and things needed to move quickly. In later parts when Ma is tired and Gone, Jack's world slows and the book becomes heavy and long. Yes, all books can and do have pacing, but it felt a lot stronger with this one. I think the claustrophobia of Room lends to the time and movement, or lack thereof.
Things caught me off guard often with this book because I'd read Jack's description and think about how it wasn't normal, then realize I was fixating on a small detail. There's a reoccurring event throughout the book that I was immediately grossed out about. Every time it happened, I'd be creeped out. And then another character comments on it and Ma points out that we've forgotten about her capture and repeated rape. "In this whole story, that's the shocking detail?" she asks and I realize that wow... yes, to me it was the shocking detail and now I feel like such a horrible person for getting hung up on that part and not the seven years of rape.
When I first heard about this book I immediately added it to my To Be Read pile, then I saw it everywhere on every list and started to hesitate. I'm not sure how many people have read it on Cannonball Read III, but I'm going to guess it's somewhere around a jerzillion. I worry that overexposed books are only good because everyone is saying they're good. I feel that way about The Help. It was on all the Read This Book! lists and I read it and liked it, but the more people talk about it and now that the movie has come out, I wonder if I really did like it or if I felt like I was supposed to. Room, for me anyway, doesn't fall into this overexposure. The narration is original and works well with the plot. I think some people might not be able to get into Jack's head and follow his narration and won't stick with it, but it clicked early for me and I was fascinated with how everything was going to turn out, and knowing that there was no way the story was going to end after the last word unless everyone died. And I felt really confident that Donoghue wasn't going to kill everyone.
If you're willing to be uncomfortable and/or you like the idea of being inside the head of someone in a seriously fucked up situation, you'll like this. And you've probably already read it.
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This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information, click here.