by Emma Donoghue
Little, Brown, 2012
384 pages / $7.99 buy from Amazon
1. Not many authors could write believably from a child’s point of view and still provide such credibility and license to the narrator. That’s what you need to know most readily to begin this book.
2. Concepts like “TV People” and rain being nothing more than a blurry veil over Skylight–a saddening slap in the face realization for readers that this is really happening.
3. It is striking, the “savant” nature of the little boy – how he can be so well-educated with so few resources, and yet so ill-informed on social protocol and other “real world” mechanisms. It could be argued, though, that he is in many ways better off than a “normal” child.
4. This reviewer recommends reading this book aloud or obtaining an audio copy. Hearing the dialogue between the mother, the child, and Old Nick is especially gripping.
5. It is an incredible struggle not to be angry with Grandma. Grandma’s love for Ma exists but does not inspire.
6. The poem excerpt at the beginning. Yes.
7. The way the child refers to inanimate nouns as personified, proper-nouned entities provides reality to the voice of the child narrator, but also speaks to the attachment any human would have to inanimate things in a situation such as “Room” describes. It’s a very subtle way to calcify the experience for readers.
8. Page 67, “Princess Diana” “Should have worn her seat belt” — one of the funniest sidesteps in conversation throughout the novel, albeit cryptic.
9. The experience of the Indian family and their dog finding Jack in the park elicits severe, literal nausea. For the first time, picturing Jack outside of Room and experiencing what he must look like up next to other humans, other children – pure nausea.
10. There is a distinct failure to understand that radiates through the hospital. As such, the reader will experience a certain kind of rage and a certain kind of advocacy for Ma and Jack. On Donoghue’s merit, this is a great mechanism for roping readers in more tightly, On the other hand, the injustice provokes readers to consider how often and to what degree these situations are marred by “professionals” in our nonfiction world.
11. Ma’s age is unbelievable. She’s a truly matronly, wise, tired, somber twenty-six. It is unbelievable in a good way.
12. “The world is always changing brightness and hotness and soundness, I never know how it’s going to be the next minute.”
13. What would really be interesting is to engage both sides of the fiery debate over breastfeeding on the premises of this novel. Age appropriateness, and so forth, meaty topics to be thrown to the dogs.
14. Old Nick’s place as God to be “thanked” (and how!), and baby Jesus’s camaraderie with Dora the Explorer make a few really fascinating statements about religion in the novel. Example:
“What started Baby Jesus growing in Mary’s tummy was an angel zoomed down, like a ghost but a really cool one with feathers. Mary was all surprised, she said, “How can this be?” and then, “OK let it be.” When Baby Jesus popped out of her vagina on Christmas she put him in a manger but not for the cows to chew, only to warm him up with their blowing because he was magic.”
15. The relationship between Nick and Ma is electrifying with horror. The violence he inflicts is one component, but it is another thing entirely the psychological warfare that is happening between them. As in many cases of abuse, Nick creates a dependency in Ma that is malleable and requires her to play the game that he is playing in order to win, first to survive and protect Jack and then to escape.
16. It is a phenomenon of sorts to be rooting for a five-year-old protagonist without the “cute” lens. Instead of rooting for him because everything he does is just the darnedest, we root for him as if we were five, or he, an adult. It’s not about his age, it is about what he does with his resources and it begs the question: Could I, or you, at the age we are today, find the conviction and solidarity within ourselves to do what Jack did?
17. This reviewer dares you, reader, to TRY not to finish this book. Resistance is futile. It demands to be followed through.
18. Because Old Nick he brings trucks and sweets and allows Ma to choose, to an extent, what he picks up for Room at the store – it almost makes the reader think twice about his/her opinion of Nick, which is a real slap in the face when you remember who you’re dealing with. You feel like a villain, too, for even considering anything less than wanting him dead.
19. Likewise, the way Ma protects Jack from Nick to the point that she prevents them from even seeing one another speaks to Donoghue’s ability to inflict complete terror and alienation into the heart of the reader. Jack’s experiences in the wardrobe have their own sickening soundtrack and inspire their own skin-crawling goosebumps.
20. Dialogue between two adults is difficult enough to construct — keeping the characters true to their designated personalities, having the conversations flow as they would, making it not sound like a 7th grade skit. But to manage all of that when one of the speakers is a small child, one who has never been socialized with other children no less, is a feat of true literary mastery.
21. “Also everywhere I’m looking at kids, adults mostly don’t seem to like them, not even the parents do. They call the kids gorgeous and so cute, they make the kids do the thing all over again so they can take a photo, but they don’t want to actually play with them, they’d rather drink coffee talking to other adults. Sometimes there’s a small kid crying and the Ma of it doesn’t even hear.”
22. I would argue, probably even to the point of anger, with anyone who reviews this book as overly sweet or notes the use of the child-narrator as a “gimmick.” In some novels a child-narrator is a ploy, a pity case, and in this book it is the most direct and genuine way to feel the story. There are happy endings but these people are irreparably damaged too – what’s so honey-sweet about that?!
23. Considering that Ma is familiar with what the real world is like, having lived most of her life in it before being captured while Jack is not, because he was born and lived all of his five years in Room, it is only appropriate that their recoveries differ. It is almost as if Ma reverts, for awhile to a self-indulgent, adolescent state which is exactly what she was torn from seven years before. Meanwhile, Jack is learning at the speed of light and there is a disconnect between them for awhile which is piercing, at least.
24. Imagine trying to survive in your bedroom with only whatever objects are there and whatever some psychopath brings you to eat and live on. Now imagine birthing and raising a child for five years in that same space. Okay, good. Now read, and feel.
25. Don’t choose to open this one the night before a final, a big presentation at work, your wedding, or any other big day. You’ll be up reading all night and regret it when you feel like spending the whole following day fetal in bed.