Sunday, January 30, 2011

Emma Donoghue - Room (Book Review)


Reasons for reading: read a very positive review of it on Book Smugglers

I was very excited about this book, possibly because I'm a student of sociology and the concept of a child growing up in a closed environment is very interesting – I have to wonder what happens when the child is suddenly brought into the 'normal' world and has to become a part of a society (s)he's never before come into contact with.

The plot of Room itself is pretty shocking, once we get past the initial introduction and put the pieces together – Jack and his mother are locked up in a room where Jack has spent all of his 5 years of life. His mother is only 27 and, after years of captivity, still hopes to be rescued, sending SOS signals through the window at night and playing a game of 'scream every day but Sunday' with her son.

For Jack, it's all just a game or a weird habit of his mother's. As we view the story through his eyes, we don't really get to feel the atmosphere that must be ever present in their tiny room; Jack doesn't have much worries and for him, the Room is all the world he knows, perfectly normal and safe. He is not unhappy, but seems to be completely satisfied living in the Room as long as his mother, who is obviously distressed and often depressive, is by his side. Jack cannot perceive his mother's suffering; he is only a child and his POV leads us to believe that the situation is not nearly as dire as it actually is.

As most children, Jack is able to adapt fairly quickly whenever the situation changes. Sure, he doesn't like it at first, and is a bit confused, but later on, he seems almost indifferent to new situations. Around him, things happen and change, but Jack cares only about things he always cared about – his mother, his toys, Dora the Explorer … Through his eyes, even the most incredible twists and turns in his life are of the same importance as things that seem perfectly ordinary to us, like going to the mall or getting a new toy. This gives reader something to think about, of course, but also leaves him longing for something more.

And here's where Room disappointed me. Throughout the book, Jack and especially his mother encountered different problems and lived through some important changes in their lifestyle. But the child POV, which was meant to bring us even closer to the story and the characters, was not really the best choice for the story Donoghue was trying to tell. Jack, being only five, doesn't have much personality; I was longing to hear the tale from Jack's mother, who would probably shed a different light on the story, but sadly, Jack remains the sole POV throughout the book. His mother's suffering and problems are much greater than Jack's, but as he cannot understand them, we only catch glimpses of what his mother's going through, and even those are rare – we probably see more of the average person's incompetence with handling a child that grew up in a tiny room than Jack's mother's trauma.

Room is not exactly what various reviews and blurbs on the cover led me to believe. Even though Jack is the POV, I felt that the real protagonist was his mother – but she got to explain her actions and feelings at only one, fairly short, point in the book. Room has a lot of potential – the plot itself is great, the style is OK, characters are well developed – but the bad POV choice is all that was needed to leave that potential unused. However cute the child POV might be, it lacks the intensity to make Room all it wanted to be.




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