Room, Emma Donoghue (a guest review by Mumsy)

If you’ve reviewed Room lately, I’ve probably commented on your blog to say, You have reviewed this book well, but it sounds way too upsetting and I am never, ever, ever, ever going to read it myself. That is still (probably) true, so my mother has kindly agreed to guest-review it for me. Here is Mumsy!

(The review on the cover of my copy of Room says: “Potent, darkly beautiful, revelatory.” I have no idea what that even means.)

To Ma, Room is a twelve-by-twelve nightmare prison, the scene of repeated rapes and beatings since she was kidnapped at nineteen. To five-year-old Jack, though, Room is the cozy nest that Ma has created for him, where he cherishes Plant, eats dinner with Table, and often sleeps in Wardrobe – especially when Old Nick comes in at night. Room is a two-person universe – Jack suspects that even Old Nick is not properly real, though he is more real than the make-believe world Jack sees on TV. But Ma has secrets to reveal, and when she tells Jack that the world he sees on TV actually exists, events begin spinning out of control.

When I first saw a review of Room, I was a bit skeptical; I wondered how a five-year-old narrator could achieve either believability or emotional resonance. How foolish to wonder. Emma Donoghue brings Jack flawlessly to life; his quirky combination of high intelligence and childish innocence makes him the perfect narrator for a story that is, by turns, unbearably tragic and unbearably poignant. Jack notices tiny details, a trait that seems quite believable in a bright child whose world is extraordinarily small. His word-for-word reporting of Ma’s conversations with Nick, blunted by his five-year-old concreteness, lays bare the horror of their lives in a way that an adult narration could not possibly match. Donoghue just nails the inner life of a child. I loved the way Jack personifies so many of the objects around him:

There’s shoes that do on with scratchy stuff that sticks called Velcro. I like putting them open and shut like rrrrrppp rrrrpppp. It’s hard to walk though, they feel heavy like they’ll trip me up. I prefer to wear them when I’m on the bed, I wave my feet in the air and the shoes fight each other and make friends again.

Oh, Jack. I used to do that too.

So, beautifully drawn narrator, emotional nuance that will make you twist in your chair, rocket-fueled action, and (I know it’s a cliche) unforgettable characters. I read this in (almost) one sitting – it would have been one, except my husband, bleary-eyed, begged me to turn out the light because he had to get up at 5 am.  And, you know, if there’s one thing Room will remind you of, it is that authentic love sometimes demands sacrifice. I was glad mine was only to hold the last twenty pages til the morning…and to lie awake for hours thinking about Ma and Jack.