We thank this month’s guest speaker, Corey Redekop, for his book selection Room by Emma Donoghue.
Here is Corey and his thoughts on his novel of choice.
Room, from any angle, shouldn’t work as well as it does. Its narrative is laden with monstrous themes of sexual assault, kidnapping, forcible confinement, psychological torture, and others. It’s told from a point of view of Jack, a precocious and uncomprehending child. Half of its length is located within a suffocating nightmare. By almost any metric, Emma Donoghue’s tale should be a well-nigh excruciating descent into a hellscape of voyeuristic despair, the stuff of lurid melodrama and mawkish Lifetime made-for-television movies.
Suffice to say, I approached my initial reading of it with a fair amount of dread, and I don’t mean to offer a backhanded compliment when I say I was utterly relieved I didn’t want to slash my wrists immediately after the last page. Room is a harrowing journey, oh yes, and terrifying, and claustrophobic, and soul-wrenching. This is as it should be.
Room is also (let me find my other list) brave, funny, intelligent, rational, and triumphant.
Donoghue – inspired by (amongst many other incidents, sadly) the imprisonment of Elisabeth Fritzl by her father between 1984 and 2008 – begins Room on Jack’s fifth birthday. Jack, we quickly come to realize, is the offspring of his mother (“Ma”) and Old Nick, the man who abducted Ma seven years previously. Jack has never known any world but the four walls of the shed he and Ma are confined within. Ma has devoted her life to nurturing, educating, and entertaining Jack, for her own sanity as well as his. Consequently, Jack’s understanding of the world is severely stunted; other than visits from Old Nick — during which Jack remains in a wardrobe, innocently counting the squeaks of the bedsprings — there is nothing else to his world but what is contained within Room. There is himself, there is Ma, there is Bed, Bath, Blanket, Television, and Plant.
Much of the genius in Donoghue’s work lies in her presentation of this horror as mundane, as a day-to-day existence that Jack has no trouble with because he is unaware of any alternative. Conditioned as he is to constant confinement, Jack understandably greets Ma’s revelation of a universe beyond the walls with skepticism, confusion, and terror. His eventual exposure to the outside world becomes a bewildering sensory and emotional overload, yet Jack greets this potential chaos with the same innate sense of self his mother helped instil in him to survive the unimaginable.
In its essence, Room is a story of survival, as Jack and Ma are pushed to their limits and beyond. I usually detest phrases such as “triumph of the human spirit,” but I’m hard-pressed to arrive at another description that captures whatRoom so brilliantly presents. We have within each of us the capacity to identify ourselves beyond our individual tragedies, Donoghue is saying; we each can choose not to be defined by others. We can be stronger than our tormentors. We can be better than our detractors. We can survive, and thrive.
– Corey Redekop