Few things light a fire under my butt like a movie adaptation of a book. I feel a frenzied need to rush out to the bookstore and blast through it. I already had Room on my list of books to read, but only loaded it on my Kindle once I realized it was showing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival). I couldn’t get tickets to the film (insert crying), but I finished the book in record time. Room is the a story of a mother and her child condemned to a small shed in the backyard. The space is affectionately referred to as ‘Room’ by Jack, the five-year old child, and narrator of the novel.
The Good Bits.
A child’s perspective is not for everyone. Some of you won’t care about Jack’s observations of Ma, or the toys he’s named, or his day-to-day thoughts. My initial reluctance to start this book was for this reason. I didn’t think I would enjoy a narrative led by a 5-year old child’s consciousness. I was wrong. I will say that Donoghue notes that Jack is exceptionally bright for a young child. Room is not a string of broken sentences, it’s a coherent story that creates complex characters through the eyes of a child. While there are many things that Jack doesn’t understand, these will be clear to you. When Ma lays in bed and Jack says she’s ‘gone’, you know that she’s actually depressed. I’ve always liked when an author leaves you to make your own inferences, which is what a lot of this book does. What Jack doesn’t understand, you piece together on your own. It makes for a rich reading experience.
To my shock and surprise, they’re only inside Room for half the book. For other half of the book they adjust to life in the outside world: a place Jack has never been, and Ma hasn’t been for 7 years. This made the book a lot more interesting. All the character development that happens inside Room is great, but it would have gotten old. Something needed to happen, and that something was Ma and Jack escaping. After their escape I became more appreciative of Ma’s character. When they’re inside Room, she’s a devoted mother and a terrified victim—there’s no reason not to like her. When they leave Room, things change. Jack wants to treat the new world around him like a larger version of Room, and Ma wants to forget they were ever there. Is it better to do things Jack’s way to create stability for him? Or better to go to Ma’s route, and put the nightmare in the past? You feel connected to the characters as they go through this period of adjustment. Donoghue pushes you to think about what the best choice is. Or if there’s even one to begin with.
Old Nick, the man who holds Ma and Jack captive, is the villain of the story. But he’s also a background character. My struggle was whether I wanted to see more of him. Do I need to understand him? Do I need to know why he did this? Do I need to see if he feels remorse? Does it matter? Room isn’t about Old Nick, but still, he felt like a loose thread.
The real ‘sour grapes’ of Room is that I finished the novel wanting to feel impressed, but I didn’t. The concept is great, the writing is wonderful, the characters are interesting and complex. But I couldn’t get past how the story lags at the end. In some of the last few chapters Jack spends time with his grandma, just going about his day-to-day activities. Are these cute? Yes. Interesting? No. Even when Ma comes back into the picture the novel seems to lag on with no clear endpoint. When Donoghue wraps up the novel with a re-visit to Room, I found myself relieved that it was ending.
The Last Bite.
Room gives great insight into the difference between the prisons we’re put in and the ones of our own making. It also captures the difficulty in recovering from traumatic experiences. Trauma doesn’t end when you escape, or when the abuse stops. Different challenges present themselves as life goes on. And it was a wonder to watch the characters navigate these obstacles.
In novels where characters are abused, do you think it’s necessary to read the abuser’s POV?
Did you read Room? Let me know what you thought!
Let’s do lunch again next week!
please note, if you purchase the book through the link provided I will receive a commission. However, this is not a sponsored post. I was not paid to write it, and all my opinions are my own