For February, my local book group read Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel Room. The novel is a first person narrative, told from the point of view of 5-year-old Jack. At first I was a bit skeptical about reading it. I’d just returned a half-read book to the library, told from the point of view of a 7-year-old girl, because I didn’t find her voice believable (it sounded more like a 40-year-old trying to come across as a 7-year-old). However, that is definitely not the case with Room. For me, Jack’s narration is definitely childlike and he often ends sentences with words such as “yippee” and “delicioso.” I found his voice refreshing and entertaining, and the narration is what made it a 5 star book for me.
I should back up a bit to talk about the plot. For the entirety of Jack’s short life, he and his “Ma” have never left an 11-foot by 11-foot shed. When she was 19-years-old, Ma was kidnapped by “Old Nick” (aptly named because he has a white beard), who makes nightly appearances in “Room” to deliver groceries and other supplies and use Ma as his sex slave. After 7 years in captivity, Jack is the only bright spot in her world, and she has done a damn fine job of raising him under their unfortunate circumstances. At 5 years, Jack has a tremendous vocabulary, can read and do complicated math. I was most impressed, however, by their Physical Education class, where they ran laps around Room, practiced karate, and played a host of other games to stay in shape in such a confined space.
Without giving too much of the plot away, I will say that events lead Ma to question how much longer they can stay in Room. The book is divided into five sections, each ending with an engaging cliff hanger. The reader will come to learn that Jack is the true hero of the story on multiple occasions.
To my surprise, the book had fairly mixed reviews on Goodreads. Apparently, many people found Jack’s narration annoying and others were disturbed by the subject matter. At least a handful of people were disturbed that Ma still breastfed her 5-year-old son, and I would like to ask them, “is that really what you found most disturbing about this book?”
Eight out of nine people in my book group gave Room a thumbs up. There is just something about a writer who dares to be different, who works against the standard formula that make up so many novels. Although Room is purely a work of fiction, I was horrified to learn of similar real life situations that have occurred recently in California and in Austria.
This is definitely a good pick for book groups and a story that will stick with me for quite some time.