Room: A Novel

Room - Emma Donoghue I sometimes do feel like a philistine, because my middlebrow tastes mean I wrinkle my nose at Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy. It's not that I don't like writers who take chances with style. I've read entire novels in second person and loved them, but above all I want a story. This, well, this is different but in a way that I feel pays off. Room is told from the first person point of view of Jack, a five-year-old boy: I'm the best egg blower, I make the goo spill out nonstop, I have to blow three for the cake, I use the pin from the Impression: Sunrise picture because I think the crazy horse would get mad if I took down Guernica, even though I always put the pin back right after. Ma thinks Guernica is the best masterpiece because it's realest, but actually it's all mixed up, the horse is screaming with lots of teeth because a spear is stabbed in him, plus a bull and a woman holding a floppy kid with his head upside down and a lamp with an eye, and the worst is the bulgy foot in the corner, I always thinks it's going to stamp on me. This is a boy who in the first five years of his short life has only known Room: a garden shed eleven foot square reinforced into their prison, the only people in it his Ma and occasionally "Old Nick" who has kept his mother captive for seven years. Almost every night his Ma puts him to sleep in a wardrobe to protect him from the visits of her captor, and Jack counts the creaks of the bed when they're together. Creepy? Rarely actually. One of the reviewers on the cover said that despite the horror, it's "believe it or not, sweet," and I'd agree. Jack's innocence, his magical thinking and child perspective somehow make this as much charming and whimsical as horrifying. In an interview Donoghue said she wrote it to have "elements of fairy tale, horror, science fiction" and I think it has all those qualities. The language is simple given the child narrator but not always easy to get. Remember when you were five? Well, I do remember it being reported an actress had died when I was around five, and not believing it because the person shown in the picture was old, not like the child in the film with her I'd recently watched. I couldn't get the concept back then that the film was made decades ago, and not right when I was watching. Children are alien beings really. I'm sure it helped that Donoghue's own child was five when she was writing this, but she really conveys that alien perspective on reality, both because Jack is so young, and his world for so long so small. That Donoghue's able to bring that off convincingly through the novel is a lot of what makes it amazing.