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

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