I'm almost as much of a sucker for buzz as the next guy, so I'm not surprised when I pick up something that is being raved about. And you know, often enough it's worth it--The Time Traveler's Wife, The Red Tent, Graceling, American Wife--all books I've enjoyed reading, some even loved, that I found because of the buzz. But The DaVinci Code, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius--sometimes I get the word on the street wrong, or I just walk away feeling like, meh.
Room, by Emma Donoghue, was one that I jumped on, probably (I admit with chagrin) because the premise is so titillating, and intriguing. It's the story of a five year old boy who has lived all his life in one room where he and his mother have been locked by the man who abducted her seven years ago. Shocking, ripped from the headlines.
Thinking about it in retrospect, it's also a premise that promises a lot of the detailed world-building that I find appealing in a lot of books--exactly how do you manage your space, fill your time, keep clean? What resources do you have? How do you try to escape? These are the kinds of details that will always draw me to a subject, whether it's police procedures or servants in a manor house or art fraud investigators. I love a how-to.
Room delivered on that. It won't be a spoiler to reveal that the entire book does not take place in the room, but it's very much about it. Jack is the book's five year old narrator--yes, narrator, and if that sounds like a gimmick, it's just as impressive as you think that it's not a gimmick. He's a smart, articulate five year old whose vocabulary is impressive, syntax is very five, understanding of the world is like that of a Martian. He knows things from TV, but has no conception of what is real, or even what real means.
Jack's mother is amazing, and the author's ability to create a portrait of her through her son--who loves her intimately but barely knows that anyone else exists in the world--is just as amazing. She's not flawless, and her ordeal has not failed to affect her, but her parenting is just off the charts.
I think this is one of the first books that made me think this hard as a parent. It was almost unreadable in parts, actually, in a way that it wouldn't have been if I wasn't a parent. The idea of not being able to protect your child is a tough one to wrestle with, even when you've never actually been unable to protect your child. My tolerance for kids in trouble in fiction is lower than it used to be, but Jack and his Ma just make you think about what you're capable of. And I can't imagine being capable of some of what they do.
But it's a mark of what a great book it is that I'm so proud of them for everything--everything they do to navigate their world, even when it doesn't go smoothly. It's cliche to say that this book makes you think about what it is to be human, but it kind of does. It makes you think about what you're capable of, what we adapt to, and how subjective all our ideas of normal are.
Such a good book.