A very intense, compelling book. I didn’t always enjoy it, but I did appreciate it.
From the Room website:
To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world….
It’s where he was born, it’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose Jack’s imagination-the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells, the imaginary world projected through the TV, the coziness of Wardrobe beneath Ma’s clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night, in case Old Nick comes.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it’s the prison where she’s been held since she was nineteen-for seven long years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But Jack’s curiosity is building alongside her own desperation—and she knows that Room cannot contain either indefinitely….
Interestingly, the strengths of Room were often what made it uncomfortable reading.
First was Jack as narrator. He’s an incredibly imaginative and precocious 5 year old, but he is 5. He’s written well enough for this to be an issue at times. I’ll also note that there were times when he thought things that I didn’t think fit his age, even as advanced in some ways as he was, then I realized that he’s an incredibly unreliable narrator– I shouldn’t believe everything he says about himself.
In the end, Jack’s voice was far more of a plus than a minus for me. His view was something truly unique in my experience. The story would not have been as compelling if not seen through his eyes.
Which leads to another strength of the book that was sometimes an issue for me. Yes, the book was compelling, often uncomfortably so. The subject matter isn’t pleasant, although Jack doesn’t see it that way. Nonetheless, I sometimes just had to stop reading and take a break. The room would start to feel claustrophobic, the meaning of the creaks that Jack was hearing (and counting) would become clear, and it would just be too much for me.
Again that a book could have that much of an effect on me this can be seen more as praise than condemnation. I will say that reading did get easier as I worked through the book.
One last thing that could be a strength or weakness in Room: Jack’s mother was a very well developed, interesting character, in spite of us only seeing her through her child’s eyes. In the book, she did one thing– one very important thing– that I just couldn’t understand, viven. (I suspect those that have read the book know exactly what I mean, any more information would be a significant spoiler.) Everything else, all of her decisions about how to raise Jack, how to handle the situations that arose, it all made sense to me (even when they were different from what I would have done).
But when she does something that doesn’t make sense to me make her less human as a character, or more? It certainly gave me something to think about.
In the end, that’s the best part of Room— the questions that are asked (and answered) about these two people and the world they live in– the world inside and outside of Room.
Book Club Notes
We talked a lot about Ma’s decision that I talked about in my review, and I’m much more comfortable with it now (that is, comfortable that she could have made it. It’s still a very uncomfortable choice). We talked a lot about her, the position she was in, and how she was able to cope as well as she did.
We talked about what the future would hold for Jack and Ma, about how realistic each character was, and the choices they made. We talked about other, equally realistic directions the book could have taken, and were happy this was the book we had.
We talked about what made the book work, at which point each of us thought about giving up reading it, and that we were all glad we didn’t.
I highly recommend Room for reading group discussion.
Narrator: There are four narrators for Room, one of which carries most of the story, reading as Jack. I don’t know whether it was Michal Friedman, Ellen Archer, Robert Petkoff, Suzanne Toren. Michal Friedman was listed first, so I’m guessing she was Jack. I admit, I was worried that the high pitched, very slightly whiny voice (very reminiscent of a 5 year old) was going to get on my nerves, but after about 30 minutes it was no longer an issue. Other than that, all four did a fantastic job.
Production: Excellent. The decision to have “Jack” narrate the book, switching to the other voices only for direct quotes from other characters, really kept the feeling of the story coming from inside Jack’s head, but made it clear when there was real input from the world outside of him.
Print or Audio: I think the audio adds to the experience IF you can cope with Jack’s voice. If you aren’t sure, I’d say give it some time and be prepared to switch if needed.
FTC disclosure: I picked up a copy of Room from the publisher at BEA last May. I decided I wanted to listen to the audio, so I passed that copy along to a book club member.