Room ruined my entire day. I feel like I’m probably in the minority with the revulsion I felt for Emma Donoghue’s novel, but I just couldn’t get into it. It’s another novel in which the horrific things that occur made my stomach twist, and gave me nightmarish mental images that I couldn’t shake.
Room is told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, who we quickly learn is being held in captivity along with his mother in a single room. Jack accepts his strange environment as the norm, since he’s never known anything else, but his mother recognizes it as her prison for nearly a decade at the time the narrative starts. Jack serving as the narrator worked to underscore the peculiarity of their situation, as his innocence stands in sharp contrast to what the reader understands the reality of the kidnapped mother and her son, born of repeated rape.
However, Jack serving as the narrator was also a major irritant for me. His language is, obviously, that of a small child. I was put off by the combination of poor grammar and syntax almost as much as by the plot. Also, I found myself skeptical of the things that Jack did or didn’t know and understand. Jack will know an advanced word or concept, and then a few pages later won’t know a basic word or idea. I admit I’m a stickler for continuity, and I felt there were contradictions here. Enough on style, however; let’s move on to substance.
(Spoilers to follow!!!)
Now, the first half or so of the novel takes place in Room, but Jack and his mother eventually make their escape. I was hopeful that things would improve once they were out of captivity, but there was still a lot of pain and negativity. Their hospitalization and attempts to reacclimate to society are heart-wrenching. It’s to be expected that a kidnapping victim held for many years would struggle upon their return, but it was hard to read nonetheless. The immensity of the issues Jack and his mother face is boggling, and the mixed reaction — even from family and friends — to their return makes the process even more turbulent. There is some optimism, but not much. This is a rough read, especially in light of current events (specifically, the eerie similarities between aspects of this novel and the imprisonment and rape of the three women in Cleveland).
I don’t have much else to say about this novel, except that its ending is pretty anticlimatic. It neither goes as far nor as deep as I was hoping. This novel is a quick read, but a deeply troubling one. Should you decide to take it on, have something to cheer you up on standby. You’ll need it.