16. A book you’ve seen adapted: Room by Emma Donoghue
List Progress: 4/30
TW for Sexual Abuse, Forced Captivity. Spoiler warning.
So I just spent three days binge-reading to finish this novel. Having seen the 2015 film adaptation of Room, a 2010 novel, I knew mostly what to expect, but the combination of a gripping, painful plot and a unique narrative voice made this a very quick and very immersive read. Room is told from the point of view of a five year boy named Jack, who lives in Room, an enclosed eleven-by-eleven room with his mother Ma, with regular visits at night from a man called Old Nick. While readers will quickly see what this dynamic is, Room is the only world that Jack has ever known. And when Ma tells him they have to “escape”, Jack’s whole sense of reality is about to be upended.
Inspired by the real life Fritzl case (serious trigger warnings for the link), Room is the story of a young woman who was kidnapped, held in captivity for seven years and regularly raped, leading to the birth of Jack, who was born in her prison and has never seen the outside world. The use of a child narrator, one who has been carefully shielded from the sexual abuse, keeps the book from becoming outright gruesome, but the first half is still very much a horror story through the eyes of someone who doesn’t see it that way, which is even more horrifying.
While this is a spoiler, it does feel very crucial to how I view the book to say that Jack and Ma escape Room at the halfway point, not the end. Donoghue takes special care to not end on a falsely happy or triumphant note by allowing the reader to follow them into the outside world and see how incredibly difficult it is for Ma to reintegrate to her old life, and for Jack to integrate into the rest of the world for the first time ever. The first half of the novel could almost be termed a thriller, while the second half is very much an exploration of healing and survival. And how the people around someone recovering are not always the best at being supportive, despite their best intentions.
Seriously, one of my only major criticisms is how stupid some of the supporting cast can be. I know the novel is trying to introduce Jack to a lot of things at once for the sake of narrative momentum, but you don’t take an isolated, abused child to A MALL in his second week of life in the outside world. That and the world’s cruelest television interviewer strain credulity, but not enough to throw off the wonderful character work happening with Ma and Jack.
If you would be at all sensitive to being triggered by this material, it is one to avoid, as no punches are pulled. But the characters are lovely, the world is horrifying but realistically grounded, and once you accept that you’re going to be reading child-speak for a whole novel, Jack is a great narrator character. If you can stomach this one, I would recommend giving it, and the film adaptation, a try.
Would I Recommend It: Absolutely.