Friday, September 11, 2015

Room, With a Review

The novel Room, by Emma Donoghue, has been in my reading list for some time. But not long ago, I learned that it's about to be released as a film, and that pushed it to the top of the heap. That's because the idea of turning it into a movie seemed to me totally subversive of what makes the novel... well, novel.

Room is the story of a young woman who was abducted in college and has been imprisoned in a 10 x 10 shed for the past seven years. She lives there with her 5-year-old son Jack, born there during her captivity. To preserve Jack's innocence and make his confinement bearable, she has kept secret from him the existence of the outside world. To Jack, "Room" is the entire world. But now the day has come when all that is going to change.

The premise of Room is already quite strong, intriguing and horrifying in equal, intertwined measure. But the idea that really puts it over the top is that the entire novel is told from the perspective of 5-year-old Jack. When I first heard of the novel, this sounded like its single most important element -- and the thing that would inevitably be lost in the translation to film.

Regardless of how the movie comes out, I can certainly say that the book is brilliant. The story unfolds at a compulsively readable pace, and is always expanding into new areas I wasn't sure it would explore. Though it's actually a very short 200-and-change pages, I feel like it squeezes every drop of juice out of its premise and then ends at exactly the right time.

And just as I expected, the fact that it's all told from young Jack's perspective makes the book. Emma Donoghue does a brilliant job of putting you inside the mind of her unconventional protagonist. The writing perfectly captures his limited vocabulary and experiences. His behavior honors both the typical ways a child becomes devoted to ritual and unchallenged ideas, and the ways in which this particular boy is like no other. Emma Donoghue herself wrote the script for the forthcoming movie, so it would seem that any alterations were made with her blessing. Still, the book is worth reading independently of the film, as it's a truly effective piece of perspective writing.

While the book deals with some very dark subject matter (and, horrifyingly, was inspired by a real event), it's actually not a relentlessly oppressive or grim read. Here too, the story benefits in being told from the viewpoint of an optimistic child. But the juxtaposition of light and dark definitely makes you think, long after you've put the book down.

In short, I really can't recommend Room highly enough. I give the book an A, and I hope the movie is enough of a success to call more attention to it.

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