It’s my habit, every time I read a new book, to want to figure out that basic idea, that central point that the story radiates out from. Every novel–or book of any kind, for that matter–starts with a question the writer wants to explore; some new idea or angle, something to drive them to want to spin a tale. Sometimes that question gets sidetracked or buried, and you, the reader, wonder, “Where did they start, to end up here?” (…Or maybe it’s just me.)
Room, by Emma Donoghue, doesn’t leave you with any doubt about where she started. Donoghue takes the “ripped-from-the-headlines” tale of abduction, abuse, and rape, and turns it to give the reader a perspective rarely paid attention to in a tabloid tale–that of a five-year-old child who never knew the outside world existed.
Through Jack’s eyes, we see things he can’t even comprehend, and understand more about what is happening to him and his mother than he does himself. It’s a conceit that could easily slip into precious, or worse, into sanitizing. But Donoghue keeps a grip on Jack with a terrific ability to stop herself before it gets too saccharine you just can’t take it, but never letting you forget whose voice your experiencing.
What she’s built is a mesh screen between the readers, and the reality of the situation Jack and his Ma are in. It’s mostly a tale of the love between son and mother, tales of their games and meals, how they spend their days. You forget what’s really going on; but certain parts jolt you back to their reality. You read about their “Screaming game”, where they stand on the table and yell at their one and only skylight, at the top of their lungs. Jack is tickled by the competition, and likes to “win”. It’s sweet–until you realize, that’s not a game. It’s Ma’s literal cry for help.
It’s quite a highwire act, what Donoghue does; I for one can’t wait to read what’s next from this wonderful talent.
Room by Emma Donoghue is availablr for purchase at Nicola’s Books, and for loan at all branches of the Ann Arbor District Library.