Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Room - Book Review

I have wanted to read Room by Emma Donoghue since Cate and I's university Sociology professor first mentioned how wonderfully the novel showcased the sociological concepts we were learning: how our development and  perspectives are profoundly shaped by the sociological structures that govern our childhoods.

Room is the story of Jack, a five year old boy, and his mother who are imprisoned in an impenetrable shack. I found this book to be a powerful example of how people can adapt and survive even the most horrible of circumstances. Jack and his mother find joy in each other, something that gets them through the most terrible of times. It was an absorbing read that I just couldn't put down; I finished it in days flat.
Donoghue nicely orchestrates Jack's development in the novel. His speech and thought-processes are so realistic: just how a little boy would think and act if he grew up believing there was only outer space and pretend beyond the room he was in. Everything from the fear of separation from his mother, to constantly confusing pronouns, to thinking there was only one Toliet, Bath, or Rug (hence the capitalization) made perfect sense. 

You definitely fall in love with Jack as the story goes on. I always find child narrators particularly interesting and engaging. One, they are not used very often so that makes their perspective unusual, and two, since children are apt to notice different things than adults, I always find what they notice to be fascinating (as I probably haven't thought like that since I was a child!). Jack is not exception, especially because of his unique circumstances. I guarantee that he will charm you, put a smile on your face, and tug at your heartstrings.

It was thrilling to see Jack expand his worldview outside of little Room. I was excited for him to explore the vibrant world he had missed out on for so long, yet I also felt worried that that same wonderful world would be too much too soon for someone who lacked any exposure to human beings besides his mother for five long years.

*Spoilers from here on out*
After they get out of Room, it is not all smooth sailing. Both mother and son have stumbling blocks which make their story come to life. You see in particularly great detail how Jack adjusts to the outside world. Even things we take for granted, like a breeze on our faces, a bit of rain, or taking the stairs, are monumental new encounters for Jack. Additionally, his mother has to adjust back to a life of her own. She has to figure out how to be herself again, free and uninhibited, after being kidnapped, imprisoned, raped, and threatened for nine years. 

There are many obstacles I never thought of for Jack to face after he gets out. I, like his mother, thought he was "mostly okay". At the same time that we are aware he has an unique, harrowing, traumatic existence being locked up in Room, he is very much like an ordinary kid. He delights in reading stories with his mom, colouring pictures, jumping on the bed and singing songs. However, I never thought about his eyesight being underdeveloped for seeing distances or the physical effects of his body's development, after all, Jack and his mother did PE in Room everyday! But he never ran outside in the fresh air, never walked long distances, or even had a flight of stairs to climb. All of those things, and many more, have deep impacts on what our bodies may be capable of later in life. Through seeing Jack's progression you come to realize that he will likely be just fine, but it's really a miracle that he came through the experience as bright, happy, inquisitive as he did. Though it is not by any stroke of luck, it is his mother's protective and helping hand that guides him through the experience and into safety.

I couldn't help but think that "The Plan" was a horribly risky idea. There were too many things that could have gone wrong. Old Nick could have just buried the evidence in the backyard. There could have been no one around to help Jack (there almost wasn't!). Jack could have really been stuck in the rug and perhaps buried or thrown in water. Old Nick could have gone home and torched the shed in anger. Too many variables! I'm not sure how she could bear to let Old Nick take him out of her sight. Desperate times call for desperate measures as they say and taking risk was probably the only thing that would have got them out, after all, she had been there for nine years. I was never quite sure why she didn't try the code to get out, taking a methodical approach to trying numbers, but perhaps it would have alerted Old Nick after so many attempts, though it's never really explained.

I also enjoyed Donoghue's portrayal of the media. Similar to Gone Girl's vivid description (read the review here!), it shows how paparazzi-like the news media can be: snapping photographs of such vulnerable people. The last thing Jack and his mother needed after huge ordeal surviving and escaping imprisonment was rude photographers snapping bright lights in their faces and splashing their pictures across newspapers and tabloids, especially considering Jack's fragile state. What Jack and his mother needed, and what what people in the world need today following real life traumatic events, is peace, privacy, and time to grieve, heal, and restore.

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