Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

My first review was fantastic. But you’ll never see it, because WordPress ate it. I don’t know why and I can’t find a shred of it. So instead you get a truncated version of my rage.

This book is the story of a woman kidnapped and held prisoner in a fancy shed in a guy’s backyard. He’s a truly shitty guy who rapes and abuses her regularly. Eventually, she has a son, Jack. I guess the author thought that story wouldn’t be good enough so she decided to tell it from Jack’s perspective. Which is a stupid idea on its face. Jack is 5 at the start of the novel and goes from kind of precocious and adorable to insufferable in a hurry.

After this point there be spoilers. But it doesn’t matter because if you read this review you won’t want to read the book anyway, with or without spoilers. But I’ve bolded all instances of the word spoilers, in case you don’t take good advice. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.

PS: Spoilers!

I didn’t finish this book so I can’t actually ruin the ending for you. At least there’s that. The mom is simply known as “Ma”. Maybe they tell you her name in the last 60 pages or so, but I didn’t get that far so I’m sticking with Ma. Ma was snatched from her college grounds after falling for the oldest trick in the kidnapper’s book. The guy, Old Nick, tells her his dog is sick and can she come over to his truck and help him. This was 7 years before the opening of the story.

In the five years Jack has been alive, Ma managed to give him a sense of normalcy. From his point of view, he has happy life. All his needs. Ma, however, grew up outside of Room (as the two of them refer to the shed where they live) and knows that this is not a way for anyone to live. She wants to escape, he’s resistant, ultimately they escape. In my opinion, that’s where the book should end. They get out, Old Nick goes to jail, happily ever after. But no. The author has yet to impress upon us what is really important in life. So it goes on.

There are two main things that make it impossible to suspend disbelief while reading this book. They are Ma and Jack. Ma has been a prisoner for 7 years, raped and beaten regularly, completely under the control of this horrible man. While still in Room, it is made clear that she’s falling apart mentally. However, as soon as she’s out, she’s just fine. The police put her up in a psychiatric facility which she insists she doesn’t need. She wanders around the place, totally self-assured. She’s strong enough inside to not shy away from the stares of strangers when she nurses Jack. She even tells them off. I’m calling shenanigans on that. She should be experiencing learned helplessness at the very least. The fact that they managed to escape should have exhausted every ounce of her reserves. But no. She’s superwoman.

And Jack. He’s portrayed as a super smart little kid and that’s believable enough. With unlimited time and his mother’s completely undivided attention, most kids at 5 could be that advanced. I mean, it’s not like the two of them have anything else to do. But there are several instances where he’s unbelievable. For one, his mother drills him with proper names for things and even regularly corrects his grammar and yet, he doesn’t ever refer to nursing. He calls it “having some” and it comes off really creepy. It took me reading about 3 different sessions of nursing before I actually figured out that that was what he was doing. The slow burn of figuring it out made it more weird. I’m pretty sure, from the rest of the book, that the author was trying to make it seem commonplace but she failed spectacularly.

Another time, Ma is talking to a lawyer and the lawyer spells the word “feces” so that Jack won’t know what he’s talking about. Except, Jack does. So, I’m meant to believe that Jack recognizes the word feces when it’s being spelled out loud. A word he never had cause to know, since bowel movements are referred to as poop every time they’re brought up. So he magically knows the word feces but only recognizes milk as the thing his mom pours into glasses for herself. That doesn’t follow.

The worst thing, though, is the constant talk of God. I feel like the author thought she could get away with being ham-fisted about it because the narrator is a child and no one is a true believer the way a child is. But it comes off as an intentional message put in to try to teach the reader. The part that irritated me in particular was when Jack says a prayer over his food to baby Jesus in a cafeteria and everyone looks at him strangely, he thinks, “I guess they don’t have him Outside”. I rolled my eyes so hard I thought they would fall out of my head.

Ultimately, I think this book wanted to teach me about the evils of the world and let me look at the wonders of the world through the eyes of a child. Besides the fact that it failed at the aim, it was a stupid idea to begin with.

I feel a bit bad, because this second review was more venomous than the last one. But really, this book deserves it.

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