Since ROOM has been made into a movie and it is #NAAM, I thought I would repost this from 2011. Haven’t seen the movie yet but I plan to go. I believe they have changed the mother’s age from 19 to 17. Here is what I wrote after reading the book.
Have you read the book ROOM? If you haven’t, WARNING: there is a spoiler coming after the *****.
ROOM was written by Emma Donoghue, an Irish Canadian writer. It has been nominated and short-listed for just about every international literary prize going. It won the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was the Libris Book of the year here in Canada. It’s currently the number one selling paperback in Canada.
I bought and read it on the ship in preparation for their book club. It’s a 400 page book: I read it in 4 days. It’s a very good book. One that I recommend to readers and, if you are a writer, it’s a wonderful example of “Show, don’t tell.”
ROOM is the story of a five year old boy named Jack and his mother. The story is told from Jack’s point of view. Jack and his mother are prisoners living in a very small room. Jack’s father is the man who kidnapped Jack’s “Ma” when she was 19 years old.
It is evident that Ma has done everything she can think of to make Jack’s life as stimulating as she possibly can. You get the impression that within their limited world she is wracking her brain to use everything she can to teach him and, thereby, make him ready for the outside world. Jack talks about all the aspects of Room as if they are proper nouns. Ceiling, Floor, Cupboard. You can just see her pointing and asking him. “What’s this? – Window”, “What’s this? – Door” She’s worked hard and she’s succeeded. He is a very precocious five year old.
Ma sacrifices much for him. In order to survive she tolerates the sexual advances of her captor. While it is happening, Jack, tucked away in Cupboard, counts the squeaking of Bed’s springs. Ninety-five, ninety-six waiting for “Old Nick” their jailor to finish so he can have Ma back. Again without directly describing it, Donoghue shows us just what Ma has to endure.
Early in the book, it becomes clear that Ma is still breast feeding Jack. At the book club, people speculated this might have been an attempt at birth control. This hadn’t occurred to me but Ma is so resourceful in managing the circumstances in which she has found herself that I suspect they are right.
SPOILER ALERT ******
When I began the book I thought it would be about whether or not Jack and Ma would escape “Room” but half way through they do escape.
The book then focuses on what happens when Jack and Ma are exposed to the outside world. Although they have longed for escape, the outside world has a negative impact on their relationship.
Everyone starts to interfere. It turns out that Ma is adopted. When they escape, Ma’s difficult relationship with her adoptive mother resurfaces. People start to question Ma’s actions. Her answer to a question about the breastfeeding is great BUT when a reporter asks her if it might not have been better for Jack if she had let him go to the outside world right after his birth, she tries to kill herself.
At the book club, the person leading the discussion asked if people had noticed that Ma was adopted and of what, if any, significance did people think that was.
Of course I noticed that but only one other person did. Many people did not think it was of any particular significance.
Donoghue’s description of their life is so detailed and subtle, such a writing tour de force, that I am convinced that no detail found its way into this book by accident.
Ma is adopted and she goes to great lengths to keep and do all she can for her son Jack. What is the message that Donoghue is trying to send here? Despite the fact that very few of the 14 or so readers at my discussion group didn’t catch that Ma is adopted, I believe that little detail is important and there for a reason.
Is Donoghue trying to say this adopted child would, of course, move heaven and earth to keep her child and have him thrive? OR is she saying Ma was selfish in keeping her child. (As an aside, ROOM is very close to the true life story of Jaycee Dugard who also bore the children of her captor. I haven’t heard anyone questioning whether she should have allowed her daughters to be adopted rather than keep them with her.)
At the discussion, many people felt disappointed with the writing in the second half of the book. But I think the form and the writing reflects what is happening in Ma and Jack’s world. The style in the first half is precise, tight and controlled. Ma is in control of their lives. The style of the second half not so much.
Because all this got me wondering I googled “Is Emma Donoghue adopted?” and then, “Is Emma Donoghue an adoptive parent?”
On www.goodreads.com I found some answers. There was a Q & A with Emma Donoghue. One of the questions was: “Why did you make Ma adopted?”
Ms Donoghue answered as follows:
Oh, this is a touchy one, isn’t it? People have such strong and clashing views on adoption. I see it as normal, myself, having many friends who have either been adopted or have adopted. I’m the birth mother in my own family, so my partner is technically/legally an adoptive mother, and perhaps that shapes her bond with the kids in some ways but it doesn’t make it any less powerful.
… for what it’s worth, here are some reasons I made Ma adopted:
(a) I knew readers would be longing for her to get back to the normal world, the happy-nuclear-family world, and when it finally happens I wanted her family to have a realistic modern feel. Having the parents split up was one way of doing that (especially since so many couples do break up when a child goes missing) and having her be adopted was another.
(b) Because in Room it might seem like her and Jack’s closeness grows out of their birth bond, I wanted to show that birth is not the only way for such motherlove to happen.
(c) I liked the notion of Ma’s unseen birth mother as someone haunting the novel, a parallel for Ma, a young woman under unidentified pressures who makes the very different decision to give her child up.
I find it interesting that Ms Donoghue talks about mother love when she answers the adoption question. How an adoptive mother’s love is as powerful as a natural mother’s. Nobody doubts that adoptive parents love their children. That is, after all, the purpose of adoption these days: to give those looking to adopt the experience of parent love.
But what about the child? What is his experience? I think the wise-beyond-his-years Jack would choose life with Ma every time no matter what that life is. An unseen mother haunts the novel? Perhaps more than just this novel.
I keep thinking ROOM rhymes with WOMB. I don’t know. Is this whole book an allegory? Am I reading in too much? I hate when people do that with books. But maybe, just maybe, I am right.
Maybe there is more going on below the surface in this book than even Ms Donoghue realizes.
So there you go.
If you are still with me and haven’t read the book, I think it is still worth reading. It’s beautifully written and I haven’t told you everything.