Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book Review: Room

The subject matter of Room is generally one I stay away from.  Years ago, when my book club chose The Lovely Bones, I abstained.  I have two daughters and I knew that the story of a girl being brutally killed would haunt me regardless of how well written it was.  I don't see scary/horror type movies for the same reason.  Stories don't leave me.... I choose carefully.

So when I began to hear about Room (by Emma Donoghue) a book about a five year old boy, his mother and their life in the 11'x11' "room" where they're kept captive by a psychopath, I wasn't exactly running to the book store.  But, as I read more reviews, a few things about the book made me think twice.  First, it's told in the 1st person voice of the five year old boy.  Everything is filtered through his experience and it actually provides the sort of buffer I needed to approach such horrific subject matter.  Secondly, very little of the book is about the psychopath at all.  He makes a few appearances, but is really a fairly marginal character.  Had the book been told from the mother's point of view (a 26 year old girl, kidnapped from a college campus and held captive since the age 19), I would never have picked it up.  I needed the filter.

From the moment the book began I was fascinated, not so much by the circumstances, but by the parenting story involved.  This mother finds a way to create as secure a world as possible for her little boy under impossible circumstances.  The boy is remarkably well attended to and thoroughly loved by his poor mother.  The routines she creates for him provide a steadiness and predictability that he cherishes.  Because they are alone together during the day, they have an abundance of the "quality" time children need most to thrive.  She talks to him and plays with him all through the days and even though he's quite young, she's basically homeschooling him.  She's taught him to read and write.  Even though they only have a few books, she tells him every story she can remember from books she's read.  She teaches him all the songs she knows and they sing together often.  Even though they have a television, she allows only two shows a day and spends the rest of the time actively playing with him.  It's an interesting story of a parenting relationship where there's literally very little to distract the mother from parenting her child.  The circumstances are horrific, but the close relationship they create is wonderful.  The mother is human though and the reader sees her various breakdowns from the terrible pressure she is under.  How she protects her child though, is an amazing story.  She has to make due with the barest of minimums, but she does.

Oddly enough, one of the things other readers have found "disturbing" about the book is that the mother is still breastfeeding her boy, even though he has just turned five.  This reaction really surprised me.  It struck me as such an obvious thing that the mother would maintain this comforting/nourishing ritual for the boy who has so little.  It didn't strike me as anything that the mother intended to continue indefinitely, but having weaned a two year old, I can't imagine how hard it would be to do it with this child.  In a world where the mother literally doesn't know if her child will ever see the light of day or even live to see another year, why on earth would she take from him this source of comfort and security?  The breastfeeding to me was symbolic of the relationship between this mother and child.  She was his entire world because there was no other world available and he thrived despite his awful circumstances because she was nourishing his mind, his body and his soul.

I also admire the author for taking on such a daunting task.  To write a story as disturbing as this one from the perspective of a five year old, even an extremely precocious five year old, had to be challenging and it's  not something I've seen before.  It definitely plays with the concept of perspective in new and interesting ways.  I definitely recommend this book and will look for others by this author.


  1. Great review! The points you bring up struck a chord with me as well, but you put it much more eloquently in your review.

    I absolutely agree the Ma did an amazing job raising Jack under the circumstances - good point that what she was doing was homeschooling him.

    I was talking to my daughter about this book and the idea that people were put off by the mother breastfeeding her child at age five. We agreed that this was the best choice for the child both for a source of nourishment and as you mentioned comfort.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog :)

  2. Thanks! I enjoyed your blog as well and will re-visit :)

  3. Great review! Thanks for sending the link to your blog - I will forward to our discussion leader, as I really value (and agree with) the many points you raised (this was a book I submitted to our group, and I am looking forward to what should be a very interesting discussion next week). Thanks for sharing (and stopping by our blog)!

  4. Wonderful review. I'm looking forward to reading the book soon; hopefully I'll have time for it during the holiday break and can get a review onto my blog before the new year. Thanks for the link!

  5. Beautiful review. I think you hit the nail on the head regarding the breastfeeding issue. Not only did it provide comfort, it increased Jack's antibodies the only possible way, through Ma, his only link to Outside. Her antibodies surely helped keep him healthy in a world where medicine was unlikely to be available.

  6. I read Lovely Bones, and it did haunt me for a while. Stories stick with me also, especially since I had children, and now I choose more carefully. I'm debating whether the buffer concept would work for me on this book, but with the darkness of winter already, I think I'll stick with some lighter reading for now. Interesting review though- thanks.

  7. How cool. I just received an email from Emma Donoghue herself, saying "belated thanks for your blog review of ROOM, Holly - such a relief to have at least some readers who understand the breastfeeding thing!
    warm wishes