Room by Emma Donoghue

Room was certainly a gripping read. It was one of those books that I could not put down. One that I wanted to read right through but at the same time did not want to finish. There were several issues that were addressed throughout the telling of this story. Although I can go on forever about the love, loyalty and bravery that Emma Donoghue portrays in both Ma and Jack throughout the book I’d prefer to focus on 3 other points that are constantly being addressed and/or challenged as the narrative unfolds. These are: the child’s perspective, the issue of stunted growth, and the questioning of reality.

1)   As the entire book is written in Jack’s voice (who is 5) it is very hard not to address the idea of seeing the story through Jack’s mind. As Jack tells us the way he turned 5 overnight and introduces us to Ma, “Room”, “Table”, “Chair” and “Bed” he continuously refers to objects with proper names as though each of these objects were indeed his friends. Jack does this because they simply are! Living in complete isolation with his mother as the only other person he’s ever interacted with it’s probably the most logical thing in the world to humanize the objects around him. It’s almost as though it is a survival strategy. But at the same time, he is completely unaware of the existence of a world outside “Room”. The idea that Emma Donoghue has given her readers a door inside a child’s mind and the simple logicality of Jack’s thoughts is what makes this story SO unique and SO intriguing! Only, these thoughts are interpreted by an adult and as much as we (as adults) would like to think that we know exactly what a child is thinking or feeling… we don’t. So, as incredibly logical the interpretation is of Jack’s thoughts in any of the situations he finds himself in who really knows what a child could be thinking?! We’ll never know. This is not to say I don’t think this book is incredibly written … it is! And it’s one that I’d read time and time again. But I just thought it would be interesting to think about who really does know the perspective of a child unless you are one of those people who remembers a ridiculous amount of detail from childhood (as I do… to the point where it’s a bit scary). With time, I’ve found that not too many people I know have the ability to remember what they were thinking at the age of 3 or 4 in a particular situation. Anyway… I just thought that the idea of a true child’s perspective was one to think about.

2)   When Jack and Ma do escape their captor, Jack goes through a series of tests to assess his growth and compare it to a regular 5-year-old boy who has not been living in a room all his life. As a teacher I found two particular findings quite interesting because of their larger implications.

The doctors assigned to Jack, as well as Ma, had noticed that he seems to have become quite clumsy while at the clinic. He continuously bumped into things giving himself multiple bruises. It turned out that his visual development was stunted in the sense that he is unable to judge distance accurately because he has been confined in such a small space; and so the need for him to judge distance was not apparent in his environment. Hence, it did not develop! There was another situation in the book where he encouters a stair-case for the first time and is very perplexed about how to tackle them. His knees have never flexed in the way that is needed to go down a stair-case! Left to his own problem solving skills he decided to sit on a step and work his way down from there. Simple, but logical. What does this mean coming from a teaching background? Take this into a classroom where a six year old in the first grade has not developed basic colouring skills or is unable to take hold of a pencil in the right way would probably have something to do with not being exposed to such objects in his/her familiar environment. So there was no need and/or no opportunity or even desire to learn such skills. So, they don’t! I’m sure I will encounter such children at many points of my career and I only hope that I will be able to provide them with an environment where they can explore different skills without fear and develop an understanding of them.

3) Jack’s questioning of reality is a constant theme that also plays a large role in making the book “un-put-down-able”. For the sake of shortening this post ever so slightly. I’ll ask: What is reality to you? How would you react if everything around you which you took for granted as being real was taken away from you? What then? Remember “The Truman Show”? Same predicament! But what if it was you?