Book #1: Room, by Emma Donoghue

This blog isn’t just going to be about The Roth Project, which is, after all, a mere subset of my larger project to read 100 books in 2011.  So I will also be discussing the other non-Roth books that I read.

Book #1 is the much-buzzed-about Room, by Emma Donoghue.

(summary from Booklist) Five-year-old Jack has never known anything of life beyond Room, the 11-square-foot space he shares with his mother. Jack has learned to read, count, and process an imaginary world Outside through television. At night he sleeps in a wardrobe in case Old Nick comes to visit, bringing supplies and frightening intrusion. Worried about his curiosity and her own desperation, his mother reveals to Jack that the Outside is real and that they must escape. She tells him that she was kidnapped by Old Nick and has been held secluded in Room for seven years. Jack is brave enough to carry out their plan, and the two of them are compelled to adjust to life Outside, with its bright lights and noise and people touching. What is reconnection for his mother is discovery for Jack, who is soon overwhelmed by the changes in his mother and a world coming at him fast and furiously. Room is beautifully written as a first-person narrative from Jack’s perspective, and within it, Donoghue has constructed a quiet, private, and menacing world that slowly unbends with a mother and son’s love and determination. –Vanessa Bush

Writing a first-person POV is always a challenge, especially such a limited one as a five year old boy. It’s the rare first-person author who doesn’t end up resorting to the “overheard conversations” ploy to get into the narrative facts that the narrator wouldn’t otherwise be privy to. Here, the atmosphere is so claustrophobic at first that it’s a natural fit; it becomes less so after Jack and his mother escape. I got a bit impatient after about the first quarter of the book for Jack and Ma to get out, but the story accelerated fast once Ma began telling Jack about the outside world. It’s hard to imagine how difficult it would be to comprehend the world when you’ve never seen it, but Jack’s often too-literal interpretations of things he is told rings true. I was disappointed a little in the direction that Ma’s character took in the second half but it’s certainly understandable, and the adjustment of Jack to the rest of the world is at times painful to read and, I fear, depicted a bit too easily.

But it was an amazing book. I recommend it.

4.5 stars out of 5

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