fiction, review


A book can be as exciting as it is saddening. Emma Donoghue’s Room has proven it. A Man Booker Prize finalist, the book tells of a heart-twisting expression of maternal love written from the viewpoint of a cute, smart yet still innocent little child who is forced to weave his way through the puzzling “outside” world he never knows existing. It is mostly adventurous, but there are parts where its atmosphere drags us into a deeply compassionate feeling. I wouldn’t say, looking at the narrative, that it is a wow thing, but I dare say it’s a must read in that it shows us how to understand the feelings of both a mother and a child.

To Jack, a five-year-old boy, Room is the world, the real world where he was born, where he lives “a normal life” with his Ma. What the eleven-by-eleven-foot space offers him is all he has, all his Ma can give him. He just doesn’t realize what he truly needs, what the Outside world can be to him. Now that he is five, his curiosity is growing with the vividness of everything on TV and all the things outside his skylight. Meanwhile, Ma can no longer answer his numerous questions and explain what he should know by experience. Being locked up for seven years has been hard enough for her to bear, and she knows that neither of them can stay there any longer. But getting out of the coded Room is no easy task, and living in the Outside is even more difficult afterward. Jack sees the real world as a new, strange place and he’s scared of, though a little bit enthusiastic about, many of its things and inhabitants. He longs for going back to Room, where it is his “home”, where everything is normal and nice and believable to him. While his Ma is trying to adapt to the normalcy of life she’s once known very well, Jack has to learn everything from the very start. He has even to feel what it’s like to live without his Ma and trust his strange Grandma and Steppa with his life. At the end, he discovers that the Outside world is his actual place to live and that he won’t go back to Room forever.

Jack is really a wonder kid. He’s as innocent as any other five-year-old boy, but his limited space is the only thing to blame for his astonishing innocence, for his Ma has taught him everything she can. He knows practically anything, math, reading, common knowledge. In other words, he is as smart as he is naive. Jack is portrayed very dependant to his mother as well, cannot see himself away from her. And he is so persistent in his way, naturally, childishly stubborn sometimes, also brave and endearing. He is a boy anyone would want as a child. Donoghue has successfully described him in precise, contradictory detail. She presents to the reader every psychological stage Jack has to step on, from the time he is still in Room up to the level when he is already Outside. The fear, the excitement, the awe, the bewilderment. His every thinking and feeling are so brilliantly put into words with just the right dose of lucidity. Donoghue even describes Jack’s language development through his spoken narration and dialogues, and they all seem so convincing. It’s so rare for me to read a fiction book written from a child’s perspective, and Donoghue has amazed me with hers. As for Ma, her character is so resonant of a depressed mother. Caring and loving, she also longs for her old self, her free, young, old self. All of that longing, along with her depression, confusion, mood swing and deep maternal love, is depicted very clearly yet very subtly at the same time.

Room is excellently built, consisting of five separated yet seamlessly continuous parts. It feels unbelievably stressful at times, emanating an atmosphere of desperation and misery, but it’s also cheerful where Jack’s concerned. Though founded on a true criminal case, I don’t find it terrifying when the villain comes to the scene and steals the show. In fact, I’d rather think that Old Nick’s presence is, aside from quite significant, captivating and thrilling, in a good way. Meanwhile, every time Jack and Ma appear, the atmosphere turns lovely and tender and sometimes depressing. Ma has only love for Jack, but her terrible experience and depression complicate her mind and put more burden onto her shoulder. Jack is her only anchor to the world, but I got a feeling that, through Donoghue’s clever descriptions, she’s a bit burdened by Jack’s dependency on her. All those confusing, blended atmospheres are the result of Donoghue’s brilliant writing. It’s colorful, rich, connected to any reader despite being told from a child’s point of view. I must say that I don’t quite like the narrative, especially when they seem to get out of Room so easily then have to face paparazzi and get exploited in the media like instant celebrities, and I’m really disappointed about that. However, the pace is very flowing and smooth so you’ll never be bored in the middle of the book. What the best is when Jack has to deal with his bewilderment toward the world and adjust his every step. He’s quite smart and lovable about it, despite his innocence and very limited experience.

Overall, Room by Emma Donoghue is a fabulous work of fiction. I like the basic idea, to be honest, I just don’t really like the series of events, though it ends with a riveting conclusion. In spite of the fact that I hate how it goes, Jack’s story is profound and very powerful.

Rating: 3.5/5

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