Book Club Book: Room by Emma Donoghue

7937843I have finally found another book club! I am very happy about that. It’s nice to have a bunch of ladies to read and gossip with again. The first book I read for the club was one on my Women’s Prize Project list that I had dreaded a bit because of its subject matter: a young woman held captive for years, together with the child she conceived by her rapist. Thankfully, while I was emotionally vested in the story, it wasn’t as grim and horrible as I had feared. I will mention some things that happen in the second half of the book, so if you don’t want anything spoiler-y, you might want to stop reading now.

First, I have to say that I was surprised by the fact that the story is told from the child’s perspective. I didn’t expect it, and I was skeptical at first. I think it’s very hard to portray realistic child narrators, and since I have a child the same age as the narrator, I knew that I couldn’t help but be critical. But I felt that Donoghue pulled it off well. The particular voice of the narrator took a little while to get used to, but aside from that, I found it convincing. There were a few times when I thought the child acted older than his age, but heck, the circumstances would naturally have him act older at times. Simultaneously, they explain his naiveté at other times. All book club members agreed that it was a good thing we got to see everything from the child’s perspective, because otherwise, the story probably would have been too devastating. This way, we had some distance between us and the constant rape and threats.

Second, I was surprised that mother and child escaped halfway through the story. I assumed that would happen at the end, and again I was skeptical. But Donoghue proved me wrong here as well. It was fascinating to read about the adjustments to real life the two, especially the child, had to make. I would have loved more detail here, but the child narrator was the perfect way to keep some things relatively superficial. More detail probably would have bogged down the story. As it is, we got just enough to keep us thinking: the boy’s need to learn how to walk up and down the stairs or his eyes needing to adjust because they are not used to seeing anything at distance. There were a lot of little things that never occurred to us would be affected by the deprivation both mother and son experienced.

Naturally, the child also has to adjust mentally. His mother had to make up a lot of stories to explain a world that supposedly consisted of only one room. Most of those stories are of course unrealistic, and so the boy is in a constant state of wonder after the escape—much to the exasperation of many of the adults around him who are constantly confounded by his skewed sense of the world. It was a bit heartbreaking to see how well he could spell and do math, but how he didn’t know how to interact with other children on the playground.

My edition of the book came with an interview with Donoghue in which she explained her inspiration for the story. Not surprisingly, it was based on a real event, and sadly, most readers will probably have heard of that or a similar story. What did surprise me was that according to Donoghue, some readers thought she exploited the people who were held captive by copying their story. Personally, I had no issue with it; if anything, I felt greater compassion reading this book than reading a sensationalist news story (a point touched upon in the book, when some of the boy’s innocent observations make it obvious how hard people have to work to uphold the victims’ privacy).

Book Club verdict: The book is well worth reading and, in my opinion, deserves its spot on the 2011 shortlist for the Bailey’s Prize. And as I have been told by the one movie-savvy mom in our group, the movie is pretty good, too.

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18 comments

  1. I have been thinking about both joining a IRL book club and reading Room for ages. I guess I’ve put it off because of the subject matter too, but reading your review it sounds like the story is very well done by the author.

    • It really wasn’t as hard to read as I had thought, so I definitely recommend it. And if you have ever watched Dora the Explorer with your kids, then you might get a kick out of some of the observations that are made about how the child relates to the show. Have you seen the movie?

  2. Finding a new bookclub is such a difficult thing. I moved a number of years and have tried a couple of new bookclubs, but they just don’t quite fit right (I miss my old group!) So well done for finding a new one.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book back in 2011 and was disappointed that it didn’t win the Booker – I found it a far more edifying read than the actual winner *sigh* I guess that happens.

  3. This has always sounded too dark for me! I’m excited for you that you’ve found a book club though and that you all found this to be a good read 🙂

  4. I really like Emma Donoghue’s writing (I read Frog Music), but I just can’t bring myself to read Room. Rape/Sexual Assault is one of the areas I work on in my professional life. I just can’t read about it for “fun.”

  5. I had heard about this book when everyone was first reading it, and all I knew was that there was a boy who thought Room was the whole world. Then, I saw the trailer for the movie, which made it very clear that the mother and son get away from the abuser! I thought that would have been a spoiler, but I didn’t realize it came in the middle of the book until I read this review. The middle doesn’t seem like a spoiler place. Usually the end is what we reviewers avoid.

    I’m so glad you have a new book club. I just found one last Friday. I’m terrible at making friends in real life, so I’m hoping it goes well. The first meeting is in three days, so I’m glad I found them just when I did.

    • I’ve never even seen the trailer for the movie, but everyone seems to like the movie, so I will probably see it at some point. I’m very happy about my new book club, although there might be just a little more gossip than book talk. 😉 I hope you’ll enjoy your new club. Talking to fellow readers is always a bit easier, because you know for sure you have at least a love of books in common.

  6. I’m glad to hear you’ve found a new book club, that’s great! My book groups has been through a few changes over the past ten years. Our old one dissolved as various members moved away or left to pursue other interests, but our current group has been up-and-running for four years and is working very well. Funnily enough, I read Room with the old group – not my choice as I’m not terribly fond of child narrators, but nevertheless it generated a very interesting discussion. The film is well worth seeking out – in fact I preferred it to the book. Excellent performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay in the lead roles.

    • Good to know that you liked the movie so much. Everyone seemed pretty happy that Brie Larson got the Oscar, so I figured she must have done an excellent job. I might watch it once the on-demand version gets a little cheaper. I just don’t have that much time for movies at the moment….

  7. I’m so glad to hear you’ve found a book club! Yay! I’m looking forward to seeing what books you read for it.
    I thought Room was so well-done. The creativity of the mother was amazing. I can’t even imagine raising a child for years in one room. And, yes, I agree completely that reading it from the perspective of the child kept us from focussing on some of the horrors.
    I actually found the second half of the book more sad than the first. The child ‘seemed’ happier in Room. But, of course, we know that he wouldn’t have stayed that way. It would be interesting to get a perspective from him 20 years later when he’s old enough to understand what it was all about. Sad, though. But when has that ever stopped me from reading something? 🙂

    • Having a child the same age while reading the book really got me thinking about how much the boy’s life has to change once they leave Room. Not just everything around him, but also the relationship with his mother (who, yes, was so creative!). I had to stop myself from thinking too much about it at times. The one thing that made me happy was that the Hippie “grandfather” could relate rather well to the boy and was able to explain some things to him in a way he could understand. I would read a follow-up, too, although it would probably make me very sad as well.

  8. Oh yes the movie of it is excellent. Nail-biting for sure. I haven’t read the novel but I like how the mother kept the horrors of the situation as much away from the child as possible. I like how she tried to make it a bit of a magical world. Room is a bit similar in that regard to the themes of the 1997 film Life Is Beautiful. I haven’t read Donoghue’s novel but I’m sure she deserves credit for her sensitivity.

  9. I found this novel really moving when I read it a few years ago. I completely agree that it wasn’t exploitative. I thought the child’s voice made it a highly sensitive portrayal and as you say, a step removed so there’s no horrors presented, its what the adult reader puts together.

    I haven’t seen the film either but I’ve heard its excellent!

    • I really had to stop myself from thinking too much about what it would be like if my child were in such a situation. It still gives me goosebumps. I’ve heard nothing but great reviews of the movie as well, so I might have to make time for it at one point.

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