In stark contrast to the previous book review – Civilisation and Savages – which spoke about a world with no mothers and test tube babies, this post is about a mother and her child and nothing else of consequence.
Room by Emma Donoghue is told from the perspective of a 5 year old boy named Jack. The book, I must admit, is rather dreary until you get past the first 80 pages. Initially, it comes across as a fantasy novel. This kid and his mother live in a house and, as narrated by the boy, everything outside the confines of their home does not exist, which is to say that he has never been outside his house in the 5 years of his life. They live in a house with all the bare necessities a mother and her child need to survive. Jack has never seen any animal or person except his mother and a vaguely described male figure called Old Nick. Therefore, all the trees and monkeys and people he sees in TV are only in TV – imaginary, not real. What Jack does not know is that 7 years ago Old Nick kidnapped “Ma” and he is the realisation of Old Nick’s rape of Ma. Ma is a diligent mother and keeps Jack fit through a strict schedule of exercise and a healthy diet. Theirs is a loving relationship and nothing is out of the ordinary except that Ma tells Jack that the World is nothing but their house, perhaps an attempt at keeping him, and herself, from longing.
This novel is one of the few which has changed my outlook of the world – not drastically but to some degree at the very least. It re impressed upon me the necessity of the relationship between a mother and her child. It was completely joyless, piecing together Jack and Ma’s story over the course of about 100 pages. The book is slow in revealing the plot but once it does, it is a sucker punch which knocks into you the reality of Ma’s situation and its equivalence with so many stories in our world.
Jack and Ma eventually escape their jail and go on to recover and assimilate back into society. Jack eventually turns out as you would expect a 5 year old to be – inquisitive, inquiring, curious – except that he lacks the social skills of a child his age. Old Nick is captured by the police after he tries to make a run for it. Ma reunites with her college friends after more than 7 years. She was only 19 when she was kidnapped. When asked by a reporter how she feels after having ‘the best years of her lives stolen from her’, she responds by asking how the reporter knows that those were the best years of her life.
The book ends on a pleasant note with promises of a bright future for all except Old Nick. What lashes out at you is the stark reality of so many many many mothers out there who are in similar situations. Perhaps their entire lives are justified by the existence of their children. I read a brief article about the the imbalance in unpaid labour between men and women around the world. Each gender has implicit responsibilities. Men chop up wood for the fire, women prepare the food. In our insular, urban worlds, it is more than likely that both men and women may be able to chop wood as well as prepare food, but the reality for women in third world countries is vastly different.
This book is so stressful and nerve-racking. Once the plot unfolds, you just have to read it in one sitting. As I type these words, I find myself thinking about a person who has undergone similar abuse. What would their perspective be? The book may not exactly be an exciting read now would it? I’ll leave you to your own cup of tea. Happy reading!