Room: A Novel. Emma Donoghue

Room turns fact into fiction.

(Original Review 6/4/12) – **SPOILER**
First, let’s get past the horror of the possibility inherent in this book. It can and it does happen! But, as a work of art, of something with which to spend one’s time, I’ve more to say.

I came late to this book. Didn’t intend to read it, but it is an assigned read; and the only reason I can imagine that it  is assigned is to show the perfection with which an author can reveal details. The first third — yes definite thirds – was dedicated to introducing Ma and Jack and Old Nick and how the three came together. I was truly taken in by the arduous task of living with Jack in one room. There were some red herrings – I thought at first that Ma was a drug addict. At times I thought Nick was a “good guy” and I thought maybe there was some element of the captor identifying and “liking” the captor. (Stockholm syndrome?) This weird psychology was later explained (in the third section) by adding a previous dead child, etc. I didn’t much care for that. I think the truth would be far more intricate and wouldn’t require a previous dead baby.

Beyond the first portion, as we learn what “get some” means, as we learn about the sound of the door code, as we look with great generosity upon Ma (who is never identified), we learn very little. I know the book itself, the structure of the text is intended to resemble a tightly built room – excluding much more than it admits, and that the fresh air that blows in when the door opens is often tainted by things that cause discomfort, but the author left me without relief.

The section in the Clinic is useless, as are the silly passages about Jack and his new extended family. Only
Steppa seemed real and normal and all-accepting of him. But, alas that too is tainted as steppa is disliked by Ma and maybe by grandma. He is an ancillary, not too well loved person in the book; also Grandpa, whose honesty about Jack’s origins banish him from the family. His avoidance of the boy is only a weak method for the author to show that Ma is willing to give up her family for her boy. We get it!!

About Ma. What’s this business of being “gone?” Why the attempt at suicide? Not enough foundation for that, it felt like filler. Hitting all the notes that the reading public clamors for. Her recovery from said effort was too swift, and leaving Jack alone with her so soon in the Independent Living was dangerous. All that in three weeks? Come on!

Jack is what he is. I feel he is drawn perfectly and he grows out of the circumstances dictated by the
book.. He has no unreasonable thoughts or activities, though yes, his vocabulary might be too great. I hate that his cousin, Bronwyn, is degraded by being babyish and demanding, as an illustration of Jack’s maturity. Too
unrealistic.

**Added 7/18/12** There is a very strong suggestion that the writer might have read Preston & Child’s “Still Life With Crows.” Some of the language, pop-psychology, etc. is very, very reminiscent of that superior book. See my review of “Still Life.”***

Frustrating for me was the excessive use of the word “bit.” I wanted to scream. Could there have been no other pronoun or noun used to describe a part of a whole. That was really hard to take.
The most frustrating part, though it extends throughout the whole book, is Ma’s constant allusions to books, paintings, stories, myths, religious stories, all that over and over and over again. I was already sick of Alice and “baby Jesus and St. Paul,” but when the Great Escape occurred on Easter Sunday, really I wanted to
gag — but I did read on. It is as if the author needed to trot out all her childhood favs, stories and lessons and show how they influence us. We get it!!!

The lack of closure beyond “Goodbye Room,” was poor. I would rather the author had cut out some of the post-Clinic trips and Grandma’s aggravations and given a little time to the court case, to the sessions between Ma and Dr. Clay and Noreen. Pilar and Officer Oh were fabulous, interesting and important in their ways.

I am interested to know the real source of this story. Among the many books mentioned in the story was The Shack, and I am wondering (because I loathed that book), if Donoghue either created something with that same “in the news feel” because she read The Shack, or if she wrote it from some inside knowledge of some true case. The Shack was a sham of a book, poorly written and a book that relied on sensationalism with a backdrop of Christian  redemption earned not by prayer and sacrifice but by convenience. An accident, a hospitalization, probably drug-induced stupor all contributed to the dream of redemption. That is not redemption. Ma and Jack were indeed redeemed, and theirs seemed to me more genuine.

We know Ma was no “saint” when she got picked up, and the book sort of wants us to think her abduction was a punishment for  her “sin” of her prior abortion. The author then adds another baby who must die
before St. Jack is born.

Conveniently, Ma dreamed up plans A&B after  Jack saw the airplane and she had to begin telling him the real truth about  outside and inside. There is something worth investigating in her timing of a  plan. I am not “blaming” her for being incarcerated, nor am I wondering why she  didn’t make a better or sooner effort to fight to get out. (In fact she put Jack  in grave danger – a five year old upon whom their Escape was dependent). I am  wondering why the author did not use a more profound moment for Ma to come to a
plan. If she wanted to play the Christian theme, the author could have staged a  visitation from Baby Jesus or his mother and planted the idea in Ma’s head. The  airplane was not enough to put in motion the complexities of The Escape.

In all it was a good book. It beats The Shack,  and it is better than some “popular” books which are promoted as the “next great  thing.” This is not literature — it simply alludes to literature — but that’s  okay too.

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