Holiday reading: Room by Emma Donoghue

Hmn, my huge plans for a week of holiday reading and writing were scuppered by a lovely pool, hot sun and an over attentive barman. I mean that in the ‘providing lots of drinks way’ not in any other sort of way, y’understand? So, most of the time when I should have been devouring the many, many novels I took with me, I was actually devouring food to soak up the alcohol of the day before, or beginning the next night of drinking around 2 in the afternoon…

I managed to read Room by Emma Donoghue though. This book had in turn been recommended (indeed on Amazon, it is highly rated) and mildly disliked by a number of my friends so I was prepared for a potential disappointment.

I read the book on my flight to Zakynthos and finished off the final few chapters on the first day of my holiday. Speed reading is not necessarily a good thing. In this case, particularly, it was a case of I’ve started so I’ll finish, but please let it end quickly.

(My friend K had actually admitted to having skipped a good chunk of the book as she’d got bored of the tale of life in the room.)

So, what’s wrong with it exactly?

**(er I guess this contains spoilers so don’t read it if you plan to read Room – though obviously I’d suggest you read this and not Room…)**

It’s basically the story of 5-year-old Jack and his ‘ma’ who are kept prisoner in a room by a man. It transpires that his mother was kidnapped and that Jack is the result of the constant sexual abuse and rape she suffered. Jack has never left the room.

With its reference point in real life accounts of abduction and imprisonment from the last few years, it is an interesting investigation of what the day to day horror of living with this might be. Yet while Room has at its heart a harrowing reality, the delivery and plot leaves a lot to be desired.

It’s written from the point of view of Jack, who as a 5-year-old has limited vocabulary. The use of names for things in Room like Wardrobe, Rug, Meltedy Spoon (with capitalisation) was jarring and interrupted the flow of the prose. It just didn’t ring true to me that in one sentence Jack could be stringing together a coherent description and understanding of his world, yet in the next be speaking in short, sharp disjointed phrases.

His appeal as a narrator was limited, and indeed, limiting: the reader gets no real sense of any emotion. His descriptions of his Ma made her a strange and quite flat character: things she does are difficult to empathise with, she often comes across as selfish and quite brazen with her son’s safety which I’m sure should not have been the intention. Having a bad day? She ignores him. Planning the great escape? Put him in the hands of the abductor, he’ll be fine. I get that she’s full of desperation at this point, but the whole plot surrounding the escape plan was lunacy. Lacking suspense and highly unbelievable: things just happened. Jack’s blank, simplistic narration did nothing in what should have been a terrifying, heart-in-mouth moment. I am sure that had the mother been given a voice the emotion of the novel would have been richer and stronger.

Once away from the room, the author’s investigation of the aftermath was flat. Jack’s introduction into a new world could have been magical and highly imagined, but was again quite bland and uninteresting. Donoghue seems to have tied herself in knots over Jack’s delivery, presenting an unreliable narrator with limited linguistic and story telling ability.

In the end the plot sort of petered out, almost as if the author was saying ‘well they’re out now, what do you care?’ And care I didn’t. Disappointing.


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