“Was I minus numbers?”
“Hmm?” Ma does a big stretch.
“Up in Heaven. Was I minus one, minus two, minus three – ?”
“Nah, the numbers didn’t start till you zoomed down.”
“Through skylight you were all sad ‘til I happened in your tummy.”
“You said it.”
So starts Room, by Emma Donoghue, a novel short-listed for the 2010 Booker Prize. Room is narrated by five-year old Jack who lives in a small room with his mother, kept there by Old Nick. If you lived in a small room your entire life, what is your reality? Jack is told what is on TV is fantasy, as far as he knows the world consists of three people. What happens when you get older and you begin to have more questions then your mother can answer? And what happens if you leave Room? How do you adjust your thinking and perspective? Much like Alice going down the rabbit hole, Room is about adjusting to a new reality.
There are many references to Alice in Wonderland in this short novel from explicit – Alice is one of the few books Jack’s mom has in Room, to subtle. It is just one of the various items of detail that make reading Room a pleasure despite its subject matter. Room is not easy to read if you have difficulty reading about children and women in peril. What Jack and his mother are going through is harrowing and dangerous and Jack’s mother will do anything to protect him.
What is amazing is the level of detail Donoghue is able to achieve, the amount of thought she has put into this story: Jack’s language, his way of speaking to the physical issues he has, even down to how Jack and his mother spend their day. The reader truly has a feel for Jack’s reality and the adjustments he needs to make. My heart broke for Jack, his Ma, and the struggle they go through. In addition to the detail, Room is very well written with such sentences as “Before I didn’t even know to be mad that we can’t open Door, my head was too small to have Outside in it. When I was a little kid I thought like a little kid, but now I am five, I know everything.” And as we learn, knowing everything doesn’t make living any easier. However, if Jack can adapt, perhaps we can as well.
Epigraph to Room
Such trouble I have.
And you sleep, your heart is placid;
You dream in the joyless wood;
In the night nailed in bronze,
In the dark you lie still and shine.
Simonides (c. 556-468 BCE)
“Danae” (tr. Richard Lattimore)