I finished the book Room, by Irish author Emma Donoghue, this weekend, and I can't stop thinking about how remarkable it was... I haven't read the other novels shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize, but I can see what drew the judges to Donoghue's novel. It's written from the perspective of a five-year-old boy named Jack, whose world consists of an 11x11 cork-lined Room. He and his mother, Ma (we never do learn her given name), are being kept captive in a sociopath's shed, but Jack doesn't know that for most of the book, and to him, life in Room isn't awful. It's all he knows. He's friends with Dora and Diego. He can read and write better than most third graders. He still nurses and shares an extraordinary relationship with his Ma, who has ensured he never has to see "Old Nick" (the nickname they bestow their captor) by making Jack sleep in a Wardrobe (everything in Room is a proper name, including Door, Wall, TV, Meltedy Spoon, Skylight, Table, Bath, etc.) before 9PM, when Old Nick comes to "visit."
Donoghue's book made me think of the lengths mothers in extraordinary circumstances will go to in order to keep their children safe. It made me think of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide and the slave tales about women who hid their pregnancies and then their babies so they wouldn't be separated from them. At one point, Ma tells Jack, "You're the one who matters," and although he doesn't understand what she means, because his life is completely dependent on her (except when he's asleep in Wardrobe, they've literally never been out of each other's sight), every mother who reads the line will understand it.
What wouldn't we do for our children? Wouldn't you also silently withstand a nightly rape if it meant another day of security for your son? Wouldn't you fabricate stories so your children feel safe, even if they really aren't? Wouldn't you consider yourself blessed, even under the worst of situations, if at the very least you could touch, and feel, and mother your own child? Room is extraordinary, not just because the point of view is that of a kindergarten-aged child, but because it explores the mother-child bond in a way that will make you think hard about your relationship with your children and the myriad ways that our children bless us, save us, even.
This post was written as part of my membership in the From Left to Write book club. I was sent a review copy of the novel.