Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’ has been in the limelight for quite some time now. The most recent reason was because it was the favourite to win the Booker Prize this year. I had resisted the temptation to read it till now; one of the reasons might be because I rarely read Booker Prize winners or nominees – the only Booker Prize winners or nominees that I have read till now are ‘The Sea’ by John Banville and ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ by Kiran Desai. But when I went to the bookstore recently, after browsing for a while and not buying anything (I was on a book-buying ban; you might ask what is the point in going to the bookstore if one is on a book-buying ban – I keep asking that question myself and I don’t seem to have an answer :)), I stumbled upon ‘Room’. After returning home, I kept thinking of Emma Donoghue’s book and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I decided then that I will go to the bookstore the next day and get the only copy of Donoghue’s book which was there. I got it, came back and read it for the last few days and finished it yesterday. Here is the review.
Summary of the story
I am giving below the summary of the story as given in the back cover of the book.
Jack is five, and excited about his birthday. He lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures eleven feet by eleven feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real – only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until the day Ma admits that there’s a world outside…
Told in Jack’s voice, Room is the story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible. Unsentimental and sometimes funny, devastating yet uplifting, Room is a novel like no other.
What I think
I find it difficult to write a review without including spoilers, but I will try to do that here. But if there are any spoilers which slip in unintentionally, please consider yourself forewarned.
To continue the story in the summary, ‘Room’ is about a mother and a son (Ma and Jack) who live in a room and have no contact with the outside world. Or rather their only contact with the outside world is through a man called Old Nick, who brings grocery supplies once in a week. The mother and the son live, play, read, eat and sleep in the room. The son’s exposure to things which are not there in the room is through programmes on TV, which he thinks are just on TV and not real. Then one day Ma tells Jack that there is an outside world, which has most of the things that come on TV. How did Ma and Jack come to be in the Room? Who is Old Nick? What is the impact of this huge secret, on the existence on the outside world, on Jack’s mind? What are Ma and Jack going to do now? Will they try to get out of the Room to see the world outside? If they do, will they like it? All these questions are answered in the rest of the book.
‘Room’ is one of the most beautiful evocations of the love between a mother and her child that I have ever read. The dialogue between Ma and Jack are some of the most beautiful passages in the book. Jack’s voice as he tells the story is quite unique – it is innocent, it is perceptive, it comes up with insights of wisdom that only children are capable of, and it sings a song which touches one’s heart. I haven’t heard a voice like Jack’s in quite a while – the last time was Scout Finch’s in Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and before that it was Christopher Boone’s in Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’.
I saw this sentence in the ‘Acknowledgements’ page of the book and it made me smile 🙂
I would like to thank….also my friends…for their suggestions about everything from child development to plot development.
I liked the cover of the American edition of the book. This is how it looked like.
But the cover of the edition I have (the British edition) is not bad – I like that too 🙂 I am glad that they just changed the cover and didn’t change the title.
I loved reading ‘Room’. It made me smile, laugh and cry. It is a literary monument built in honour of love and it is one of my favourite books of the year – I would like to call it my most favourite, but in a year in which I read ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ it will be difficult to do that. But it will go into the list of my alltime favourite books and I will read it again – atleast my favourite parts. It is a shame that it didn’t win the Booker Prize this year – it definitely deserved it.
I am giving below some of my favourite passages from the book. I am repeating the passages from my previous post in the end, because they are some of my most favourites J Some of the passages have spoilers and so I have put them together in a separate section. Typing these passages took me once more into the world of ‘Room’ and brought me a lot of joy.
Vegetables are all real but ice cream is TV, I wish it as real too.
If I was made of cake I’d eat myself before somebody else could.
…she says pain is like water, it spreads out as soon as she lies down.
We watch the medical planet where doctors and nurses cut holes in persons to pull the germs out. The persons are asleep not dead. The doctors don’t bite the thread like Ma, they use super sharp daggers and after, they sew the persons up like Frankenstein.
People in books and TV are always thirsty, they have beer and juice and champagne and lattes and all sorts of liquids, sometimes they click their glasses on each other’s glasses when they’re happy but they don’t break them.
Scared and Brave
“Scared is what you’re feeling,” says Ma, “but brave is what you’re doing.”
Word sandwiches always make her laugh but I wasn’t being funny.
I thought humans were or weren’t, I didn’t know someone could be a bit human. Then what are his other bits?
“You know who you belong to, Jack?”
He’s wrong, actually, I belong to Ma.
The zzzzz thing
There’s something going zzzzz, I look in the flowers and it’s the most amazing thing, an alive bee that’s huge with yellow and black bits, it’s dancing right inside the flower. “Hi,” I say. I put out my finger to stroke it and –
My hand’s exploding the worst hurt I ever. “Ma,” I’m screaming, Ma in my head, but she’s not in the backyard and she’s not in my head and she’s not anywhere, I’m all alone in the hurt in the hurt in the hurt in –
The magic of fire
I’m watching the flames dancing all orange under the pasta pot. The match is on the counter with its end all black and curly. I touch it to the fire, it makes a hiss and gets a big flame again so I drop it on the stove. The little flame goes invisible nearly, it’s nibbling along the match little by little till it’s all black and a small smoke goes up like a silvery ribbon. The smell is magic. I take another match from the box, I light the end in the fire and this time I hold on to it even when it hisses. It’s my own little flame I can carry around with me. I wave it in a circle, I think it’s gone but it comes back. The flame’s getting bigger and messy all along the match, it’s two different flames and there’s a little line of red along the wood between them –
“Will you be dead before I do?”
“That’s the plan.”
“Why that’s the plan?”
“Well, by the time you’re one hundred, I’ll be one hundred and twenty-one, and I think my body will be pretty worn out.” She’s grinning. “I’ll be in Heaven getting your room ready.”
“Our room,” I say.
“OK, our room.”
How the sea tastes
I kiss her face where the tears are, that’s how the sea tastes.
To be born
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’m changed to five, abracabadra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. “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 till I happened in your tummy.”
“You said it.” Ma leans out of Bed to switch on Lamp, he makes everything light up whoosh.
I shut my eyes just in time, then open one a crack, then both.
“I cried till I didn’t have any tears left,” she tells me. “I just lay here counting the seconds.”
“How many seconds?” I ask her.
“Millions and millions of them.”
“No, but how many exactly?”
“I lost count,” says Ma.
“Then you wished and wished on your egg till you got fat.”
She grins. “I could feel you kicking.”
“What was I kicking?”
“Me, of course.”
I always laugh at that bit.
“From the inside, boom boom.” Ma lifts her sleep T-shirt and makes her tummy jump. “I thought, Jack’s on his way. First thing in the morning, you slid out onto the rug with your eyes wide open.”
I looked down at Rug with her red and brown and black all zigging around each other. There’s the stain I spilled by mistake getting born. “You cutted the cord and I was free,” I tell Ma. “Then I turned into a boy.”
“Actually, you were a boy already.” She gets out of Bed and goes to Thermostat to hot the air.
“Tell me, Mr.Five, would you like your present now or after breakfast?”
Wild Animals on TV and in the real world
I don’t tell Ma about Spider. She brushes webs away, she says they’re dirty but they look like extra-thin silver to me. Ma likes the animals that run around eating each other on the wildlife planet, but not real ones. When I was four I was watching ants walking up Stove and she ran and splatted them all so they wouldn’t eat our food. One minute they were alive and the next minute they were dirt. I cried so my eyes nearly melted off. Also another time there was a thing in the night nnnnng nnnnng nnnnng biting me and Ma banged him against Door Wall below Shelf, he was a mosquito. The mark is still there on the cork even though she scrubbed, it was my blood the mosquito was stealing, like a teeny vampire. That’s the only time my blood ever came out of me.
Mind over Matter
“Is it Bad Tooth?” I ask. He’s on the top near the back of her mouth, he’s the worst.
“Why you don’t take two killers all the bits of every day?”
She makes a face. “Then I’d be hooked.”
“Like stuck on a hook, because I’d need them all the time. Actually I might need more and more.”
“What’s wrong with needing?”
“It’s hard to explain.”
Ma knows everything except the things she doesn’t remember right, or sometimes she says I’m too young for her to explain a thing.
“My teeth feel a bit better if I stop thinking about them,” she tells me.
“It’s called mind over matter. If we don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Being Separate and Being a part
I still don’t tell her about the web. It’s weird to have something that’s mine-not-Ma’s. Everything else is both of ours. I guess my body is mine and the ideas that happen in my head. But my cells are made out of her cells so I’m kind of hers. Also when I tell her what I’m thinking and she tells me what she’s thinking, our each ideas jump into our other’s head, like coloring blue crayon on top of yellow that makes green.
The following excerpts have spoilers.
Ma finds a concert that’s in a park, not our near park but one where we have to get a bus. I like going on the bus a lot, we look down on people’s different hairy heads in the street. At the concert the rule is that the music persons get to make all the noise and we aren’t allowed make even one squeak except clapping at the end.
In the world I notice persons are nearly always stressed and have no time. Even Grandma often says that, but she and Steppa don’t have jobs, so I don’t know how persons with jobs do the jobs and all the living as well. In Room me and Ma had time for everything. I guess the time gets spread very thin like butter over all the world, the roads and houses and playgrounds stores, so there’s only a little smear of time on each place, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit.
Also everywhere I’m looking at kids, adults mostly don’t seem to like them, not even the parents do. They call the kids gorgeous and so cute, they make the kids do the thing all over again so they can take a photo, but they don’t want to actually play with them, they’d rather drink coffee talking to other adults. Sometimes there’s a small kid crying and the Ma of it doesn’t even hear.
“It was interesting”
“Maybe you’ll enjoy it more next time,” says Grandma.
“It was interesting.”
“Is that what your ma says to say when you don’t like something?” she smiles a bit. “I taught her that.”
The Living Room puzzle
We go through the room that’s called the living room, I don’t know why because Grandma and Steppa are living in all the rooms, except not the spare.
“Dad will get his act together in a while,” she says.
“What’s his act?”
She sort of laughs. “I mean he’ll behave better. More like a real grandpa.”
“You must feel an almost pathological need – understandably – to stand guard between your son and the world.”
“Yeah, it’s called being a mother.” Ma nearly snarls it.
‘Room’ is one of the most beautiful books that I have ever read. Fellow book blogger Kelly says that it is a book that should be read by everyone. I second her. Go get it today and read it 🙂
From my side, I am hoping to explore more of Emma Donoghue’s books – maybe I will read her ‘Slammerkin’ soon.