Cover to Cover: Emma Donoghue's Room

    Cover to Cover is the book review for the busy student. She takes the time to let you know if a book is really worth yours. You’ll get an average time it takes to get through the book, and whether or not you should invest those precious reading week hours, actually reading.

    When Elisabeth Fritzl emerged from captivity in April of 2008, the world was shocked. It wondered who and why, and watched in morbid fascination as all the sordid details of Fritzl’s trial came to light. How could a man keep his grown daughter and her children locked in a single room for 24 years? The story was horrible and shocking. So, it’s no surprise that two years later someone went and wrote a book about it. What is surprising, however, is how quickly the story moves from something “ripped from the headlines” to a work of brilliant and insightful literature in its own right.

    Five-year-old Jack has been held captive with his Ma in a converted garage for his entire life and their 11×11 world comes into sharp focus from the very first lines: “Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I am five, abracadabra. Before I was three, then two, then one, then zero. Was I minus numbers?” Told from Jack’s perspective, nouns become singular entities. It is not a chair, but Chair, and not the bed, but Bed. Everything from the concept of real and not real, to outside and inside, is veiled with a five year olds curiosity and confusion.

    Jack is essentially the perfect narrator. While most novels like these have a tendency to wallow in the shock and melodrama of the plot, Jack’s strong, surprising voice manages to avoid this. Jack’s world is a happy one, self contained, full of creativity and imagination. It is this unexpected happiness that brings dimension and depth to the story. The drama is created, instead, when his world bumps up against Ma’s own sadness and her adult understanding of the misery and terror of captivity. Through him, the true weight of his world, Ma’s misery and resilience, and the physical dangers of survival at the hands of their captor are felt.

    However, the best part of the novel comes after Room has already been escaped. Just as the stories of Egg-Snake, TV, and Remote begin to grown repetitive (because really, how much is there to say about a Refrigerator?) Jack and Ma manage to find a way out. Their actual escape is terrifying, enthralling, and tightly written. But what comes after, their exploration of the outside world, is even more fascinating.

    Here, Jack’s perspective, again, manages to escape the melodrama and provide a clean backdrop on which to view the true strangeness of society. The outside world becomes more terrifying and foreign than the inside one. The actions and responses of media and family members hold a mirror up to society’s fascination with the morbid, the unusual, and its own self-absorption.

    Room: A Novel combines horror and joy to create a story about survival  and the concepts of family, society, and normality. It is wonderfully written, strongly realized and fascinating — a truly illuminating novel.

    Time taken: Five and a half hours

    Worth it? Yes, yes, a world of yes.


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