Saturday, December 11, 2010

Recommended read: Room by Emma Donoghue

Room by Emma Donoghue
Find it in the catalog!

Room is told from the point of view of Jack, who has just turned five years old. He lives with his mom, Ma, in Room, which is actually an 11 x 11 foot garden shed. Jack tells the reader about their routine in Room, which in addition to eating, taking a bath, and doing laundry includes activities such as Phys Ed (they move furniture on top of the bed so they can run on Track that's in the shape of a C), Parrot (Ma plays the TV, mutes the sound, and Jack recites verbatim what he just heard), Corpse (they lay down next to each other being as still as possible), Keypad (Jack presses buttons trying to figure out the code), and Skylight (they stand on top of the table under Skylight and yell as loud as they can). Ma limits Jack's TV watching, which he accepts but doesn't like. Ma and Jack have found resourceful ways of creating activities. Jack keeps adding segments to a snake under the bed made of old egg shells, they've attached toilet paper rolls together to make Labyrinth, and Jack even keeps Ma's bad tooth that falls out to play with. Ma has repeated the stories including The Count of Monte Cristo, Goldilocks, and Princess Diana numerous times for Jack, and they also enjoy singing pop songs to each other.

Each night Jack must be in bed in the wardrobe by 9 PM, because that is when Old Nick punches the numbers on the keypad and comes into Room. Ma keeps Jack out of sight of Old Nick, who takes away their garbage and begrudgingly brings limited food and household items that Ma requests. Each week Ma and Jack are able to request something special, called Sundaytreat.

Because Room is all that Jack knows, he is connected to all the inanimate objects inside, referring to everything by name: Table, Remote, Rug, Wardrobe, Bath. Ma is the only other person he's ever talked to, so her word is law on what the world is. She has told Jack that everything outside Room and what he sees on TV is Outer Space (he refers to the various TV stations as "planets"). But when Jack starts to ask questions after noticing the same pills ("killers") used by Ma on TV, Ma then begins to tell Jack the truth about the world and how she ended up in Room-- kidnapped when she was a 19-year-old college student seven years earlier, Old Nick locked her inside the soundproof garden shed in his backyard. As Ma explains more and more to Jack about the outside world, she formulates a plan for how they can escape.

Jack is one of the most memorable characters from a work of fiction that I have read in quite some time. He has such an open, innocent view of the world, and his voice remains stuck in my head, weeks after finishing the book. I think Donoghue did an amazing job of writing a character who is, in a way, an alien to life on Earth-- even though Jack loves shows like Dora the Explorer and can sing songs by The Beatles and Kylie Minogue, he has never interacted with people and places "outside." I think Room is definitely one of the best books of 2010 and I think you will become quite attached to the character of Jack. As Ma shares her plan for escaping with Jack, I started to actually feel a little sick with worry because I didn't want anything to go wrong. Once you start reading you will curse any task (eating, working, sleeping) that takes you away from finishing this book.