CBR III Week 12: Room by Emma Donoghue


Another day, another book I listened to. This one was read by, apparently, Alvin the chipmunk. It was…special.

Room is about a little boy named Jack whose entire world consists of a small room he shares with his mother. How did they come to be there and blablabla? I mean we've all heard about this book, I think. His mother got kidnapped by a creepy weirdo named Old Nick, and he keeps them in a shed, like Fritzl, but less awful.

Donoghue’s Jack is so limited in his understanding of whatever is going on around him, as a result of both his  age and his circumstances, that it becomes possible for Donoghue to have him describe, for example, Old Nick’s visits to Room, and for the reader to come away with an interpretation of what is going on in that is totally different—and much more harrowing—than Jack’s. At the same time, that same naiveté gives a grim situation lightness, and allows for moments of loveliness and grace in what is actually a fairly dark story. Told from an adult point of view, the story might be too horrifying, or too sentimental, or too exploitative to succeed, but as told by Jack, the world is too new and too riveting for any of that. Rather than being a story about captivity, it becomes a story about dizzying freedom: about the first, primal bond Jack has with his mother—which, stretched out as it has been, is edged in something dark, desperate and pathological—and the painful, exhilarating process of becoming independent, of becoming human, as opposed to “a me-an-Ma”. Jack’s story is successful because all the time we sense how close he is to somehow being ruined by his circumstances, even when he can’t, and in this light his everyday experiences become miraculous.

That said, the ending gets a thumbs down, y'all. But I can't talk about it without ruining it.


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