Friday, July 9, 2010

Review: Room

Emma Donoghue is an author I've really enjoyed in the past.  She writes great historical fiction set in 18th century England (Slammerkin and Life Mask), basing whole stories on one-sentence clippings from the Society section of the newspaper.  I was very excited to hear she had a new book coming out, though Room is nothing like her British historical fiction.

NOTE:  The author has asked me to warn readers about spoilers here, though personally I don't think I could write this review without giving away the important bits of information below.

Room is narrated by Jack, a 5-year-old who lives with his mother in a shack, where they are kept imprisoned by Jack's father.  Jack's mother was kidnapped seven years ago, and all of Jack's life he's been in an 11-ft square room.  It's all he's ever known.  But one day his mother comes up with an escape plan, and she and Jack finally get to leave Room.  But living in the big world outside is difficult, with so much noise, so many people, and tons of space.  Jack and his mother have difficulty adjusting to life outside the room, and a life that involves so many other people and things than just each other.

It is odd to say that this book disturbed me in all the right ways.  But it did.  I was uncomfortable almost the entire way through.  Kidnapping and rape are two of those topics that your mind tries very hard to slip away from, almost never even letting you contemplate the course either one can lead down.  This whole book, though, is about those two things, and as you read it, your mind is forced to confront those issues it tries so hard to avoid.

It isn't that this book is graphic.  As it's told from Jack's point of view, we don't hear about the emotional trauma his mother must have felt.  We don't get many details about the actual kidnapping or the imprisonment. We just get a 5-year-old's sense of bewilderment as he discovers a world much larger than he expected, and his difficulty in accepting that his mother isn't just his any more.  In a way, this is even harder to take.  I don't know many 5-year-olds, but I think Jack was very authentic and true to form.  Sometimes he was a complete sweetheart and sometimes he was extremely aggravating.  One of the most disturbing aspects of the book to me was all the really odd things Jack did that he thought were completely normal.  For example, he still breast-feeds from his mother, even though he's five years old.  He doesn't like people touching him, but he refuses to sleep in his own bed or take a bath without his mother in the tub with him.  In many ways, I was very uncomfortable with the relationship between Jack and his mother, but I also know that Jack's mom (we never learn her name- she is just Ma) had to make a lot of difficult decisions and I have no right to pass judgment on what to me seemed a really creepily co-dependent situation.

Luckily, there is much more to this book than just the breast-feeding at age 5!  There is a very sympathetic portrait of a woman trying to get her life back after seven years, now with a lot of emotional baggage, a lot of media attention, and a child.  There is a boy who has never in his life seen more than two other people, suddenly thrust into a world where he is a celebrity.  There is a family, coming to grips with once again seeing someone they thought lost (think The Face on the Milk Carton, but for an adult and a small child).

In a way, I don't even know what else to say to review this book because it is so hard for my brain to focus on the subject matter for any length of time.  It's an emotionally-charged, high-impact book.  It will terrify you and disturb you, but it will also draw you into Jack's world completely. 

This review is based on an advanced reader's copy.  I received this book for free to review.  The book will be released in September.

27 comments:

  1. And adult book told from the perspective of a five year old sounds like an interesting concept but I would think the limited point of view might get frustrating. This book reminded me somewhat of Stolen Lives, the true story of a family secretly imprisoned for twenty years by the king of Morocco. One of the family members was a child who lost his whole childhood due to the kidnapping, and this was one of the most heartbreaking parts of the book for me.

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  2. This book sounds far too disturbing to me, although since it is fictional and you've described it as being much better written than the average misery memoir and far broader in scope, nonetheless it sounds as if it needs a page of helpline numbers at the back.

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  3. This sounds amazing, and yes, disturbing in all the right ways. It's incredibly how upsetting it can be for readers to realise that a narrator or protagonist treats things that are unthinkable to us as absolutely normal. I actually wrote something similar the other day when drafting a review of Feed by M.T. Anderson. Great minds and all that :P

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  4. I know exactly what you mean when you say it disturbs you in all the right ways. It sounds like an interesting premise. I'll have to keep an eye out for this one.

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  5. Even though the breast feeding part is icky I do get it in a way. But, I do fear this one would be too dark for me

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  6. I have an ARC of this knocking about somewhere at home...I'm going to give it a go after reading your review. It sounds disturbing but in an intriguing way. I've not read a book with these sorts of themes before so I am now eager to open it up!

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  7. wow...you have certainly made me want to get to this sooner than later; thanks so much for the great review.

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  8. The author here: thanks so much for the deeply thoughtful review! Any chance you could put a spoiler alert at the top, as it does give quite a lot away? Thanks again, in any case.

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  9. I hadn't heard of this book prior to BEA. So many people were grabbing it up, but I never saw it because I didn't know to look. I sort of regret that now, ever since finding out what this book was about.

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  10. This sounds really good, Aarti. The kind of book that will stick around in your head for the rest of your life and flash into your consciousness at odd moments.

    Also, Slammerkin sounds really good, I might have to get that one as well!

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  11. Simcha- Yes, that sounds like a very hard book, too. At lest in this one, the kid was younger!

    Tracy- I am not sure what helpline numbers would really fit, though! "Were you abducted as a child? Call this hotline!"

    Nymeth- Ooh, I'll have to look out for that review!

    Zee- Based on your love of police procedural-type mysteries, I think you'd like it.

    Blodeuedd- Step out of your box ;-)

    bookssnob- I've not read a book with these themes, either. It was definitely difficult.

    Diane- Ooh, do you have it, too? I want to know what you think.

    Emma- Done, though I don't know how to review the book without giving some of those details away!
    Thanks for visiting!

    Amanda- I had never heard of this book before seeing it on Amazon Vine. I really just picked it up because I know the author's previous work, though this is nothing like that. I admit... I think I prefer the histfict.

    Sudhana- Yes, very similar to The Blue Notebook in that way. And I think you'd really like Slammerkin!

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  12. This sounds like a great read to me. I like disturbing. :)

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  13. I really, really want to read this book, and am anxiously awaiting it's September release date. I have loved all of Donoghue's other books, and for many reasons, this one sounds like it would be the kind of book that I couldn't put down. I also think it's interesting that you chose to write your review a bit obliquely due to the reactions you had to the story. It sounds like it's a disturbing book, but also a really interesting one. Very insightful and well written review, Aarti.

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  14. loved this book, but I decided to hold off on the review until closer to the publication date.

    I found Jack's relationship with his Ma creepy, too, but I kept reminding myself when you're being held prisoner together in a room 24/7 it's going to have an effect on boundaries and expected behavior.

    The most fascinating part of the book for me was Jack's reactions to the world outside of the room.

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  15. *giggles* So to recap this week, cannibalism, and also kidnapping/rape. Next week on Book Lust: pedophilia and war crimes. :p

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  16. Trisha- Disturbing is right!

    Zibilee- How have we not talked about a mutual love of Donoghue's work before?! How odd of us! If you'd like my copy, let me know and I can send it to you!

    softdrink- I always debate that closer to publication vs. immediate thing, but tend to go for immediate as I don't like having drafts in my blog. It makes me feel cluttered somehow! I definitely think that the prisoner thing gives the relationship different boundaries than others but yes... it still creeped me out.

    Jenny- Oh, just wait ;-) Haha, no really, there isn't anything else odd coming up!

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  17. OMG Aarti! This sounds so incredible!! What are you doing to me? Seriously...books that don't come out until October and you're making me drool over them now? :p Seriously though...sounds incredible!

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  18. Erm...or September....Still though, that's two months away :p

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  19. Considering that this author is from the town I grew up in and lived for almost my whole life, you'd think I would've read one of her books by now. Think I should remedy that - your review makes this book sound... intense and good, even if it does sound slightly disturbing too.

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  20. Chris- I'll admit it, I wanted to be a bad blogger :-P

    Court- I definitely think you should look into her other work, if this one seems very intense for a summer read!

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  21. This book sounds awesome but very disturbing. I saw it on a lot of people's lists from BEA and definitely plan on reading it when it comes out. Thanks for reviewing it!

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  22. This book's premise is disturbing, of course, but from your review it sounds very well-done. Definitely the type of book I'd be interested in reading. It's sad to know that these situations happen in real life, isn't it? Thanks for sharing. (:

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  23. Haha, you most definitely will be for this one...this may be one of my most coveted books now for the rest of the year.

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  24. This definitely sounds like a book I would want to read, but I'm glad I read your review first. I think it's the sort of thing I need to mentally prepare myself for before I can get into it. I don't always like disturbing, but it's sometimes necessary, especially if it's done well.

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  25. I think this is in my BEA pile somewhere - I have to get to it soon :)

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  26. Now I'm really upset that I didn't snag a copy at BEA! This sounds really good, and I'm curious about the fact that it's narrated by a 5-year-old.

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  27. I absolutely loved some of her earlier works (Kissing the Witch, Slammerkin, Hood, etc.) and used to buy her in hard cover straight away, but lost track sometime after Life Mask. This one does sound intriguing though...

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