Room

by

Oh! How much I wanted to love this book! The premise is wonderful, and it’s a Man Booker nominee so it was anyway on my TBR list for the longest time. The only reason I hesitated to read this book was that I felt the subject of the book would be too disturbing for me. My son is the same age as Jack – the little boy in the book, and I was afraid I would get all emotional about poor little Jack’s plight.

Eventually, it turned out I didn’t get all emotional or all that excited about the book. I”ll tell you why a little later in my review.

Synopsis

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the world. It’s where he was born, it’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose on Jack’s imagination—the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells, the imaginary world projected through the TV, the coziness of Wardrobe below Ma’s clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night in case Old Nick comes.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held since she was nineteen—for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven-by-eleven foot space. But Jack’s curiosity is building alongside her own desperation—and she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer.

Told in the poignant and funny voice of Jack, Room is a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child. It is a shocking, exhilarating, and riveting novel—but always deeply human and always moving. Room is a place you will never forget.

~ Synopsis from the back of the book

My Review

The book was inspired by the horrifying real-life case of Elisabeth Fritzl from Austria, a woman who was kept imprisoned by her incestuous father, Josef Fritzl, in a sound proof dungeon in his basement for 24 years. She bore him seven children (and one miscarriage) who were also kept imprisoned until their rescue.

In theory, a story like this would wring my heart out and make me sob, and think of the book days and weeks, if not months down the line.

However, this book didn’t really do it for me. I think it is because I don’t think Donoghue who writes the book from the point of view of 4-year old Jack, actually captures what a four-year old would talk and think and do. I have a bright and precocious 4-year old in my house now, and every time Jack said something really cute, I’d look up at my sweet Piglet and realize just how off Jack sometimes sounded.

It’s hard to nail down specifically, but Jack seemed way too advanced in some ways, and way too childish in other ways. While I found him adorable, I didn’t find him particularly believable.

Here’s another thing, which just rang false (and excuse the spoiler below).

Jack’s Ma concocts an elaborate plan to save them both. It is detailed and very well thought out. But, you know who has to execute the plan? 4-year old Jack, that’s who. And my head just spun at all the sections where she tutors him on what to do, and even emotionally blackmails him into doing it. It really shocked me when the plan actually works, and Jack is able to rescue his mom.

Another thing that bothered me (although I realize this only in hindsight), is the simplicity of the story. This is a Man Booker nominated novel for heaven’s sake, and in my subconscious I was definitely expecting a more complex, and well-written (not in the language of a toddler) book with shades of grey.

I can’t help comparing it to other Man Booker nominated novels, and somehow this just doesn’t meet that caliber in terms of writing or story. I know I shouldn’t compare books, but this is something I can’t help. 2010 (the year Room was nominated) must have been a poor sort of year when it comes to literary fiction, because honestly I just can’t see why there was so much fuss and adulation over Room.

Have you read Room? What did you think of the book?

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  • Dhanya

    Though I dint read the book, I watched the movie and really loved it! especially Jack!

    • Nishita

      @Dhanya I’ve been wanting to watch the movie. Will catch it if it comes on TV.

  • I read this and liked it when it came out, but I haven’t wanted to reread it. I enjoyed what Donohue was doing with the book, for sure. At the same time, I thought it kind of fell apart after they got rescued — she was trying some interesting stuff but just not quite getting there (I thought).

    • Nishita

      @readingtheend:disqus Totally agree with you. Liked where she was going with the book, but didn’t really think she got there. I am curious about the movie though. I wonder if it is better than the book.

  • Karen

    I listened to an audio version which I thought worked really well. I didnt feel there was a big disconnect with Jack. Maybe it would have been more obvious in the book but listening to it, I can’t say it was that evident.

    • Nishita

      @disqus_gmoXW9BOB2:disqus I do think this book might work better in audio. Also, I think having a 4-year old around me while I was reading this book made me hyper aware of how off Jake’s vocab sounded. In one place, he’s talking about brain cells like a 7-8 year old, and in another place, he was still doing toddler babble. It felt very weird to me.

  • Helen

    I liked this book but I didn’t understand all the fuss over it either. I agree that Jack’s voice wasn’t always very convincing. I remember thinking that it would have been interesting to have read the same story from the mother’s point of view.

    • Nishita

      @disqus_PJt0yMC1c8:disqus Yes, it would have been good to have a couple of chapters from the mom’s point of view as well.

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