Right on cue for the holiday movie season comes yet another film with its origins in a popular book. The movie Room — based on the Emma Donoghue novel of the same name — will be released here in the United States next week.
Some people may shy away from the subject matter. My initial reaction was that I wanted nothing to do with this book. A child and his mother held captive in a small room for seven years? No thank you. But one of the key things to understand about Room is that this novel is about so much more than the actual plot. So much more.
(That being said, it is the story of a five year old boy named Jack and his Ma. From the book jacket: To five year old Jack, Room is the world. It’s where he was born. It’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose Jack’s imagination — the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells, the imaginary world projected through the TV, the coziness of Wardrobe below Ma’s clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night in case Old Nick comes.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held since she was nineteen — for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven-by-eleven foot space. But Jack’s curiosity is building alongside her own desperation — and she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer. )
It is original in respect to the writing, for it is the mark of a true literary talent to sustain the incredibly authentic voice of a five year old over the course of a novel, which Emma Donoghue (a mother herself) does brilliantly. The pacing is perfect and has you on the edge of your seat. While Room is indeed very tense in parts, this isn’t a gory or graphic novel. (Donoghue could have easily gone down that road, but didn’t, and it works just as well.)
As a reader, you don’t know where this story is taking place — nor do we ever learn Ma’s full name — and those elements add to the absolute straight-from-the-headlines feeling that Room has. (This inspiration was the Fritzl case in Austria and I found myself thinking a lot about Elizabeth Smart and the stories of the women held captive in Cleveland as I read.) We also know that this takes place in the modern day; there are references to a website with “lots of faces,” and emailing friends, and Lady Gaga and children’s show characters such as Dora the Explorer and Barney. There are so many small details that add meaning and depth to the novel, such as the time of year in which it takes place (springtime, right around Easter weekend, symbolizing death and resurrection).
You find yourself caring about these characters, rooting for them, wondering what exactly happened for Ma and Jack to wind up in this predicament in the first place. (And when that is revealed, you realize how this could have very well been a memoir.) You find yourself falling in love with Jack, wanting to adopt him and cheering his mother’s feisty spirit. From a literary perspective, everything works in this one.
This is the type of book that you want to buy a hundred copies of and give to everyone you know who hasn’t read it yet. It is that good, that powerful, that affecting. This is a book that completely engulfs you, that you are compelled to read in practically one sitting. (It took me three, but one was spent reading almost 200 pages straight, and I vowed not to go to bed until I knew what happened.)
But most of all, you read Room in utter and complete awe, for this is a story about love and the lengths to which someone will go to in order to give a child the best life possible, despite being trapped in horrific circumstances.
~ Melissa F.