Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Return to the Living and ROOM

Greyson came down with his first virus over the weekend and was kind enough to pass that along to me. That means I've been caring for the sick or sick myself for the entirety of my vacation from work so far. Let's just hope things go up from here!!!

Monday, when I was still well, Chuck blessed me with a few hours outside the house. I was on page 31 of Emma Donoghue's ROOM that morning, and by 11:30 that night, I was done. I read in starts and fits when time allowed, but everyone was right when they said it was unputdownable.

I've been thinking over exactly what to write in this review ever since I finished the book. Given all of the blog coverage I'm certain I don't have much to add that's new, but I can tell you this: I'm having a really hard time being a smartass about this book. That is, there's no sarcasm or flip attitude here. This book deserves more than that. I can only tell you about my visceral reaction to it.

I've mentioned along the way, I've actually tried reading this book twice before. The first time I got hold of a library copy and with other things to read and lacking the time to adjust to Jack's voice in the novel, I returned it unread. Then I checked out the audio version from Overdrive and found it even more difficult to stomach listening to Jack's narration. As a newish mom, I was simply terrified of this book. Thanks to Heather and Les and others who assured me it would be OK and that I'd likely be glad I read it.

I am glad I read it, though it was not easy going. I have to say, this is probably the most agonizing book I've ever read. I found myself sitting in the cafe at my local Barnes and Noble, gripping the table, hunched over the book, nearly in tears. And that was at the mid-point!!! I don't know that I've ever had such an anxious physical reaction to a book. Donoghue's writing is powerful, charged with emotion, and just downright excruciating at times.

Going into this novel I was prepared to experience a level of sensationalism and needless violence comparable to Elizabeth Scott's Living Dead Girl, which I abhorred. However, Donoghue pulled it off. The big "climax" that I expected was situated in the middle of the book, so the scope of this novel was much larger than I'd anticipated. It's not just about Ma and Jack being held captive -- it's also about learning to live in the world after a debilitating tragedy and psychological damage. This, for me, was key to making this novel palatable. There's redemption and healing in the book, whereas Living Dead Girl just felt like a barrage violence, abuse, and hopelessness. I could not have finished ROOM if that's all there was for Jack and Ma.

A colleague of mine at work also read and recommended this book, and his comment was: This goes to some really dark places. And boy, he wasn't kidding. The things that Ma and Jack have to do to survive at some points in the book are just heartbreaking, and for me as a mother these were the hardest bits to read. I tear up just thinking about it.

Is ROOM worthy of all the buzz? Yes, I think so, and I had serious doubts from the outset. Each reader has a different set of criteria for how they judge a book, and for me a large part of that process has always been the emotional or intellectual impact of a novel. ROOM is certainly an accomplishment on the emotional front. I don't think I'd read it again, because I just don't think I can, but thanks so much to everyone who recommended it. I'm glad I jumped in and gave it another try.

Rating:
Snuggle  -- Skewer


Pub. Date: September 2010 

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Format: Hardcover, 336pp
ISBN-13: 978-0316098335
Source: Library

22 comments:

  1. I was wrapped up in this novel as well. It was difficult to read, but very well done. I don't feel like it was needlessly violent and I think having it come from Jack's perspective helped in "softening" the horror of the situation.

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  2. Amanda, good to see you, first of all, and I agree. If it'd been told from Ma's point of view, I don't think I could've read it. Having that horror filtered through Jack's innocent eyes really helped.

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  3. Your review is fantastic! It was a little hard to adjust to Jack's voice, but once you do, this book will punch you in the gut.

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  4. I'm so glad you came back to this one and enjoyed it! I read it in a single day too, and it has stayed with me.

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  5. It's hard to go back to a book after you've put it aside, so I am glad you went back to it and finished it. I thought this book was fantastic.

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  6. Thanks, Kathy! I totally agree. The first time I tried I had trouble actually not being annoyed by Jack because I was too "aware" of the writer writing as a little boy. Does that make sense? It was almost gimmicky. However, when I came back to it I had a hard time because it was almost too believable. Definitely pulled at the heartstrings.

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  7. Carrie, I think it'll remain pretty vivid for me too. There were moments in there I will NEVER forget. Have you read other books of Donoghue's?

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  8. Lola, I do have a hard time coming back to books I've put aside but very glad I returned to this one. :)

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  9. I listened to a bit of the audio (long after I read and loved it) and I couldn't stand Jack's voice. So yeah, can't blame you at all for giving up on the audio.

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  10. I have been hesitant to read this book too. Everyone has been praising it but it still does scare me a bit and I'm worried that I just wont' be able to get into it. But I think that every reviewer seems to talk about the same hesitations and still really enjoyed the book. I'm thinking no more excuses - I should get my hands on this book sometime this summer.

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  11. I have this on my shelves and was a bit worried to read it as well. Sounds like I just need to suck it up and give it a go. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it!

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  12. Love the cover of this book. Not that I should judge a book by its cover, but yeah... haha :) thanks for sharing!

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  13. Sorry to hear that you've been ill, but glad things are improving. I'm really pleased that you enjoyed Room in the end. I agree that it is one of those books you can't stop thinking about - I read it about a year ago and I still think about it a lot.

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  14. Jill, it was sort of grating. :( I'm pretty particular about the readers of audiobooks and I haven't listened to one in a while, so I think on that level it would take some adjustment too.

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  15. Jennifer, it is a really good book. The first stretch was hard for me to get into -- it just sort of talks about the daily life of Ma and Jack, and that's pretty boring since they live in an 11X11 room! And Jack is 5 so his scope is pretty small. BUT, it's absolutely necessary. Lays the groundwork for all of the really exciting stuff later. Try it! Would like to know your take on it.

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  16. Samantha, it's totally worth it, just really hard to read! For the mamas and everyone else, too, I would imagine.

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  17. Alycia, I'm a total cover judger. lol You'll often find me praising or complaining about covers.

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  18. Jackie, it'll stick with me for a good while. Some of it for its grittiness but other parts for the triumph.

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  19. Andi, I'm actually really scared of this one...nothing gets me like violence or abuse aimed at a child...but at the same time, I want to read it.

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  20. Patti,

    Heather and Les were kind enough to fill me in on this, too. Jack really doesn't endure any abuse or violence. Obviously he's locked in a room with his Ma but she's a superlative caregiver under the circumstances, and their captor has very little interest in Jack. In that way, it's not so bad. I was surprised!

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  21. Great review. Room is a book that has to be treated differently from others, I agree. It's difficult to review the book, or was for me, due to how personal and vulnerable it can make you feel.

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  22. Lydia, that's a great point that it does make the reader feel quite vulnerable. I'm not one to worry over 'what might happen' that's horrible and vile. This one left me feeling a little naked and worried, though. Very strong involvement on the reader's part.

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