Friday, July 8, 2011

Room by Emma Donoghue

As soon as I began reading Room I found myself immersed in the voice of the five year old narrator—Jack. It is this voice that carries the story. Since this is a limited point of view the reader only knows what Jack knows or perceives.

Jack and his mother live in a square eleven by eleven foot room— and it is the only space Jack has ever known. Within this contained space his mother creates a world for Jack. Each important object in the room is named and capitalized and they become more than inanimate objects—they are friends.

His mother arranges their day within a set of rituals to give Jack a structured environment. While there is a television within the room Jack only watches it for short periods of time. Despite the television Jack is unaware of the larger world beyond the confines of the room.

Jack is also unaware of the circumstances that resulted in his living arrangements. He doesn’t know that the man who takes away their garbage and brings food is keeping his mother against her will. Since Jack sleeps in the wardrobe and is forbidden from being seen or seeing this man when he occasionally comes into the room—he only hears the sounds of the bed. He is too young to understand what is happening beyond the confines of the wardrobe.

This book is more than a view from the room and its occupants. It is also about the choices people make when in situations they didn’t chose. And when and if the person gets out then there is the prolonged difficulty of adjusting to a world that is different, a world that may not understand all of their decisions, a world that may be insensitive. The new space can be harrowing and require a new mindset.

In time and with some ingenious plans made by his mother they both escape the confines of the room. Being absorbed back into the world is both a long process and an emotionally draining process.

People on the outside make judgments based upon a dissimilar paradigm. Jack’s mother was still breast-feeding him at the age of five. When she’s questioned she responds by both becoming angry and making her questioners feel small. How do we on the outside know enough to question?

Donoghue’s ending doesn’t gloss over the pain of giving up what he knew and the halting acceptance of a bigger world. His mother must confront the fractures and losses of her life and move slowly back into the world.

Room is both a particular story and a metaphor for all those situations where an individual is forcibly removed from familiar surroundings and held as a hostage or prisoner by another individual or group of people. Some people survive by creating alternative universes while others die. But for all the reintegration is arduous and some don’t make it and remain on the edges of society.

Take a Chance Challenge
Challenge 5: Blurb— Donoghue wrote a blurb for Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

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