I’ve been on a kick of reading proper grown-up novels, and I’m quite smug about it (being smug is one of my favorite things). Like most of my ‘adult’ novels (and I mean adult, like big words and no vampires, not adult like, erotica, which is a distinction I had explained to me at work today from someone shopping their manuscript around) I got this one ages ago as an ARC. I’m big on free.
My roommate (I took a moment to canvas said roommate on what he wants his ‘blog name’ to be, to protect his identity. He picked hiphopopotamus. I’ve allowed that). Anyway, Hiphopopotamus read Room before me. I had brought it home, and he was looking for a way to sustain his intellectual curiosity. He still hasn’t read Harry Potter, to my chagrin, and I couldn’t talk him into Jen Lancaster either. Anyway, he really enjoyed Room, and kept trying to convince me to try it, even though I was naturally suspicious.
Part of my reticence was based on the fact that Emma Donoghue also wrote Slammerkin, a book that I will not suggest you read. I’m a big fan of historical romances, but was unpleasantly surprised to find that Slammerkin is not so much a romance as the tale of a scary prostitute who seduces the dressmaker’s one-legged husband, and then murders the woman in a grisly scene that I can still perfectly recall years later. Justifiably, I wasn’t too eager to see what Donoghue had in store for me this time.
Especially since Room is basically the story of a kidnapped girl, imprisoned in the backyard, who is raped frequently by her captor, and keeps her 5-year-old son hidden in the wardrobe. Doesn’t sound like a Sophie Kinsella novel does it? (Though it does sound familiar…)
Anyway, I’m not sure what led me to pick it back up, but I’m glad I did. Like I said, Room is narrated by the prisoner’s son, Jack. While this could be an annoying gimmick, it’s done skillfully enough that the point of view adds to the story. Born in ‘Room,’ Jack has no concept of other people, animals; the world that he is missing. He separates items into two camps: ‘real’ and ‘tv.’ Real being things present in Room, things he is familiar with, and ‘tv’ as things he believes are imaginary. ‘Tv’ items range from the acceptable (Dora the Explorer, for instance, is strictly ‘tv’) to the downright sad (other children, dogs, and trees are also all ‘tv’). Jack’s mom, who he refers to simply as Ma, struggles to maintain the illusion of their prison as a home. She keeps Jack hidden from her kidnapper (‘Old Nick’), so he has no interaction with him. She is vigilant about their cleanliness and food preparation, since there is little hope of receiving medical care. And she never stops thinking about their possible escape.
With Jack’s cooperation, Ma convinces Old Nick that her son has died. Once on the outside, Jack escapes, and rescue is somewhat easily obtained. Both Jack and his mother are overwhelmed by their new freedom. Ma, because she must learn to live in society again, deal with the trauma of her last eight years, and face the ignorant criticism of the choices she’s made with her son—and Jack, because he is facing the whole world for the first time, and is completely unprepared.
The book not only does a good job making this ‘newness’ believable, but also in illustrating that what may be a prison to one person, is a beloved home to another. Ma doesn’t seem to be able to grasp that to her son, Room was a safe and happy place, and that he is quite genuinely homesick. They must both overcome their unusual pasts in order to acclimate to a very new and different world.
I enjoyed this book’s different, thought-provoking perspective, and it was interesting (in a morbid way) to really think about what Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart went through. However, the similarities between this book and Jaycee’s actual story are so close, I can’t help feeling like it’s just another form of exploitation.
I’m sure some of you will disagree with me.