This month, our book club read “Room: A Novel” by Emma Donaghue.
To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world. . . . It’s where he was born, it’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But with Jack’s curiosity building alongside her own desperation, she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer.
Room is a tale at once shocking, riveting, exhilarating–a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child.
I’m not going to lie — I did NOT want to read this book. Just the very thought of it made me feel ill and uncomfortable. But I suppose that’s the point of literature, isn’t it? It takes you out of your life and opens the window onto lives that you’ve never imagined, or, in this case, cared to imagine.
The book is helped greatly by the fact that the narrator is 5 years old. In fact, it opens with his fifth birthday. This allows you to get a sense of the horrible situation they’re living in without it being so gruesome. I think if it’d been written from Ma’s (his mother) perspective, it would have been impossible to get through. Because, really, how does one survive the unimagineable?
But for Jack, he has never known anything differently, so to him, it’s just the way things are.
Instead, what you’re left with, is awe for a woman who has created an entire world in a 11×11 room and convincingly taught her son that there is no greater world out there. They have a TV (and Jack thinks his best friend is Dora. Hmmm, sounds familiar), but she’s careful to shield him from anything that would make him realize that the real world is out there. Instead, he thinks everything on TV is a fantasy. At least Ma could have safely watched the Kardashians if only she had E! — that’s not real-life anyway.
What impressed me most was her routines. Every moment of their day was planned and certain things occurred on certain days — on Tuesdays they washed their clothes in the tub, for example. She also found ways to keep them physically active in such a confined space by creating a circuit of activities.
I kept finding myself wondering how I would have handled things differently. Would I have been strong enough to bear the burden of our misery alone without sharing it with my child? Would I have been able to teach my child about a passion for living and joy in learning new things when the situation was so bleak? And I’ve often said that I know I’d make a terrible home-schooler, so I was also so impressed with everything she was able to teach Jack without having any learning materials — it was all from memory.
Plus, any parent who struggles to find enough hours in the day to spend time with their child will appreciate her appreciation for their unique situation. Of course she’s desperate to escape but she’s also an extraordinarily attentive, patient and nurturing mother. There are days, however, when Jack describes her as “gone.” On those days, she doesn’t open her eyes or get herself out of bed. I was actually surprised she didn’t have more days like that. I’m not sure how any one could put on that brave of a false front for so long, particularly to a toddler that asks question after question (after question). I find myself tapped out after 10 minutes of hard-line interrogation from E. about everything from who made the rain clouds to where babies come from. I can’t imagine it 24/7.
Much sooner than I expected, the two of them plot their escape. I won’t give too much away in case you’re planning on reading it yourself, but I will say that it was one of most tense sections of any book I’ve ever read. My heart was racing, and I could already picture the movie version (I’m not sure if one is in the works, but I’d predict that there will be).
The second half of the book pales in comparison to the first half in terms of pacing and story, but I was the odd woman out at book club who actually preferred it.
If the storyline sounds familiar, the author explains that she actually handed in the manuscript for “Room: A Novel” before Jaycee Dugard was discovered. She did say, though, that she was in part inspired by a similar story in Europe. I’d tell you more about that and the novel itself but I broke my Kindle last week, so now I can’t read any of my books. Fun.
Bottom line — don’t let the subject matter scare you off. It’s a fascinating read, and one of the things that I liked best about it was how authentic the human emotions are. There’s no perfect ending with a bow tied on top and everything wrapped up neatly. It’s messy, but isn’t life?
If you were imprisoned or otherwise cut off from the “real world” what would you miss most (other than your family and friends, obviously)? For me, it’d probably be my laptop and good pizza.