Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. “Was I minus numbers?” – opening paragraph*
I’m sure by now you have all heard about Room. Recently long-listed for the Man Booker Prize (check), this book is getting all kinds of buzz in the media and from the book blogging community. I figured I should just go ahead and add my voice to the song because…
…all of the buzz is right.
This book is amazing.
You have never read anything like Room.
Room is told by Jack. Jack is five years old and Room is the world to him and it becomes quickly apparent that Jack’s world is not the same as our world. Room is where he was born. It is where he sleeps, eats, bathes, plays and learns. At night, he sleeps in Wardrobe to hide from Old Nick, the man who brings them food and vitamins, creaks the bed and occasionally brings them a “Sundaytreat.” Jack has never been outside Room’s four walls; its’ an eleven-foot-square comfort zone. Room is only a comfort zone for Jack, however. Jack’s mother, or Ma as he calls her, would do just about anything to escape.
For Room is Ma’s prison, the prison Old Nick has kept her captive for seven years. Seven long, lonely, terrifying years. With determined bravery, a little bit of cunning, and a lot of powerful motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. Yet Ma knows it isn’t enough, especially with Jack growing older. Room isn’t enough for him and it is definitely not enough for her. She knows they have to escape, and she knows she’ll need Jack’s help.
Without a doubt, my favorite part of this book was Jack. Precocious without being too precious, Jack’s voice is wholly original, which is just what one would expect from a story told by a child who has never seen anything of the world. I mean just imagine, he’s never seen grass. He’s never seen trees. He’s never breathed the fresh, sweet air of spring, the humidity of summer, the frost of winter. All these things only exist for him on TV. Here, have another taste of his voice:
We have thousands of things to do every morning, like give Plant a cup of water in Sink for no spilling, then put her back on her saucer on Dresser. Plant used to live on Table but God’s face burned a leaf of her off. She has nine left, they’re the wide of my hand with furriness all over, like Ma says dogs are. But dogs are only TV. I don’t like nine. I find a tiny leaf coming, I’ve seen her two times, that counts as ten. – page 8
Jack and Ma have five books, one of which is Alice in Wonderland. I love Jack’s assessment of Alice:
Ma hardly ever reads the no-pictures ones except if she’s desperate. When I was four we asked for one more with pictures for Sundaytreat and Alice in Wonderland came, I like her but she’s got too many words and lots of them are old. page 17
As you can see, Jack practically has his own language. I was afraid this would be hard to read, but as I quickly fell in love with Jack it wasn’t a problem. There is so much to see from the point of view of a 5 year old, things you just wouldn’t see if it was his Ma telling this story. Emma Donoghue has done something so completely special and unique here. Jack is such a clean slate, so completely and totally innocent and happy, thanks to his Ma’s fierce protection and love. He doesn’t even know to be afraid of spiders, only fascinated.
Spider’s real. I’ve seen her two times. I look for her now but there’s only a web between Table’s legs and her flat. Table balances good, that’s pretty tricky, when I go on one leg I can do it forages but then I always fall over. I don’t tell Ma about Spider. She brushes webs away, she says they’re dirty but they look like extra-thin silver to me. Ma likes the animals that run around eating each other on the wildlife planet, but not real ones. When I was four I was watching ants walking up Stove and she ran and splatted them all so they wouldn’t eat our food. One minute they were alive and the next minute they were dirt. I cried so my eyes nearly melted off.
and his distress over Ma banishing a mouse from their room is equally endearing:
Then the wonderfulest thing, Mouse puts his mouth out, it’s pointy. I nearly jump in the air, but I don’t, I stay extra still. He comes up to the crumbs and sniffs. I’m only about two feet away, I wish I had Ruler to measure but he’s tidied in Box in Under Bead and I don’t want to move and scare Mouse. I watch his hands, his whiskers, his tail all curly. He’s alive for real, he’s the biggest alive thing I ever saw, millions of times bigger than the ants or Spider.
It’s passages like this, Jack’s absolute curiosity about everything, is what made the book for me. Room is funny, scary, sad, hopeful, and unique and I can only hope I have done this book some small measure of justice. Really, just read it. Room may be the most brilliantly executed book I’ve read all year and Emma Donoghue has cemented her place on my favorite authors list.
Written by Emma Donoghue
Category: Contemporary Fiction
Published by: Little, Brown Company
On Sale: September 13, 2010
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