Sunday, August 29, 2010

ROOM by Emma Donoghue (uncorrected proof)

ROOM is an astonishing accomplishment by veteran novelist Emma Donoghue. It is narrated in a pitch-perfect voice of 5-year-old Jack, who has spent all of his life with his mom in a space that is 11ft X 11ft--the singular room of the title. Jack's fanciful way of perceiving his world is revealed by the opening paragraph:

"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, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. 'Was I minus numbers?'"

Jack personifies objects that become imagined friends to him like Eggsnake under Bed and Door that "beep beeps and the air changes." They have a small TV where he watches conventional age-appropriate kids shows like DORA THE EXPLORER and SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS but also observes that on TV, "Women aren't real like Ma is, and girls and boys not either. Men aren't real except Old Nick, and I'm not actually sure that he's real for real. Maybe half? He brings groceries and Sundaytreat and disappears the trash, but he's not human like us. He only happens in the night, like bats. I think Ma doesn't like to talk about him in case he gets realer."

Old Nick is the villain of the novel, a sociopath who kidnaps then rapes Jack's Ma and she gives birth not once, but twice, in the cell that they share--the cell in which Jack was born, his "eyes wide open." Jack's Ma (only 26 herself), while fighting her adult demons, manages to provide a vibrant and creative world where Jack thrives exclusively in her company.

The novel is divided into five sections: Presents, Unlying, Dying, After, Living--all titles that Jack would plausibly give to each stage of his 5-year-old life.

Not only is Jack's voice believable, but the painful and tentative way in which he and Ma are reintegrated into society after his supremely brave escape rings true as well. And, the ending, well, it is as it should be where Jack looks back "one more time" and observes that Room is "like a crater, a hole where something happened."

ROOM is on the Booker Dozen long list and I expect to see it make the leap to the short list in September. Get a copy and find out for yourself why it is one of the finest novels of the 2010 publishing season.

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