Author: Emma Donoghue
Published: 2010 Little, Brown & Co.
Read For: Independent Literary Awards
Rating: 3.5 stars
This is my first book read for the Indie Lit Awards. I read it before the others simply because it was the only one of the 5 finalists that my local bookstore had in stock at the time. I've just finished reading Great House by Nicole Krauss, and am starting C by Tom McCarthy. It has been so much fun so far, reading the 5 books that book bloggers considered the best of 2010.
"Room" is what 5 year old Jack calls the 11' x 11' space that he and his mother are kept in. It is the only "real" he has ever known; his mother has taught him that everything on TV is pretend, and seeing as she is the only person that he is ever in contact with, (apart from Old Nick, their captor,) he has no reason to think otherwise. He doesn't mind, though. He loves their routines, loves his mother, and has a difficult time understanding why his mother does not feel the same.
The two worries I had going into the book were both unjustified. First, I was worried that the story, being told from Jack's point of view, would have an unstable narrative voice--one of my peeves, I must admit. I was sure I was going to find inconsistencies in his age and how much he understood, but I really didn't. He definitely had his own way of talking, areas of brilliancy and areas of simplicity, but every time I caught myself wondering how accurate it was, I had only to think of the speech patterns of my 6 year old daughter and I had to admit that I could probably imagine encountering a little person like Jack.
Second, I was worried that the details of Jack's mother and their captivity were going to represent the recent Jaycee Dugard case. I lived for years in South Lake Tahoe, where Jaycee was stolen from, and didn't much like the idea that her trauma had been fictionalized. Fortunately, this fear was unfounded as well. The characters in the book were different, the circumstances were different, and once I got into the story I hardly thought about it anymore.
This is a book that one reads for the plot, for the storyline. It is one of those books that kept me turning pages to see what would happen. I was rooting for Jack and his momma to make an escape, I felt a touch of the claustrophobia and helplessness tied to their situation. And although I didn't feel like I got to know any of the characters as well as I would have liked to, I did enjoy reading Jack's thoughts and feelings. I've always wished I could read my kiddos thoughts and feelings more exactly! It is very possible that we got to know Jack as well as he knew himself--I'm willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt and admit that having Jack be more observant and self-realized may have been less accurate.
It was also one of those books that--upon finishing it--disappeared from my mind rather quickly. It didn't hover over me afterwards, asking me to contemplate, to consider. It didn't haunt me like it could have, especially considering the subject. There weren't any passages that were written so amazingly that I wanted to stop and savor them, there weren't any deeper themes sufficiently addressed as to cause deeper thought. While I'm willing to concede that the self-awareness displayed by Jack may have been accurate, I cannot help but think that it would have been possible for the writing to cause you to think more, without sacrificing the narrative voice.
I think what it boils down to for me, as far as my taste in literary fiction, is that I expect literary fiction to make me ponder some complex themes that stick with me and pester me (or leave me in wonderment) for some time. Room didn't quite do this. It was an entertaining book with an interesting perspective, but it left me more eager to read the other Award Finalists rather than more Emma Donoghue. That is not to say that you shouldn't pick it up, I think there is a reason it has appealed to so many people. If you are up for a unique story, give it shot.