Some time ago, I tried reading the book Room by Emma Donoghue.
After the first bit, I could not continue. The anxiety it built up in me was pretty much unbearable. As a pastor, I have talked to many people who have suffered abuse as a child and their stories often begin in such innocent ways as this story narrated by a five year old. The way that children observe and experience things in utter acceptance of this-is-the-way-the-world-is rang so clearly through this novel that even in the first few pages I was overwhelmed with the memories of stories I have heard from the struggles others have faced and I could not finish it. I put it down and gave it back to the person who had loaned it to me.
There are many books in this world and so little time in which to read them all.
However, a friend invited me to join her bookclub in reading Room and, since she and I already have a book club of two centered solely around The Night Circus, I am pleased with the possibility of reading with her and her group. I was not going to let Room deter me. Additionally, several people whose taste in books and stories I both share and respect repeatedly commended the book to me.
So, Ok, I Read The Book.
I was very scave, but I did it!
Scave is a word sandwich. Scared and brave at the same time. Jack has to be scave a lot in this story and so does Ma. From one perspective it is an fascinating story of a woman’s perseverance, adaptability and creative manipulation of a highly limited environment in order to give her son a life in which he can remain as healthy and normal as humanly possible. From another, it is a horrid nightmare as witnessed by an innocent who is unaware of the reality of the situation because he only knows this nightmare as his everyday life.
It is a fine book indeed. I am glad I read it. It was a terribly difficult book and I am glad to be finished with it. The narrator’s voice is hypnotic and an incredibly convincing portrayal of a child’s first person description of his world. The anxiety with which it left me every time I closed the cover was palpable.
One of the fascinating things to me about this was the notion of word sandwich (which comes up several times and the word ‘scave’ appears frequently) and the two opposing experiences of Room sandwiched together into one. Scared and brave. There are times in our lives when they must go together even when we don’t want them to and, in a way, one cannot exist without the other. What is scared if there isn’t the option of standing up to the fear? What is brave without scared to define itself against? Ma’s experience of Room is as prisoner, victim, hostage. Jack’s is as a child at home. For him, Rug and Table and Plant and Duvet and Bed are all the world because that’s all the world is. Of course, part of the reason that these things can be his friends and his environment can be, for at least some parts, a comfortable place to be, is because of his mother’s sheltering him from the reality of the situation and her creative adaptability transforming Room as prison to Room as home. Room was a prome for Jack and Ma.
Half way through the book, Jack and Ma are able to escape and Old Nick (another interesting and inescapable sandwich of ideas–their captor and Santa Clause) is arrested and put in jail. What? The story can’t be over yet, we’re only half way through the book! And of course, that’s just it. The story isn’t over yet because half of the story is in Room and half of it is in Outside. This part was every bit as hard as the first, not only because of all the changes they both experienced and the overwhelmingness of the world (not to mention idiotic news reporters I wanted to smack and Ma’s mother I also wanted to smack) but also because Jack missed Room because Room had been home and Ma hated Room because Room had been prison.
It was very interesting to me to think about all the things in my life that are a word sandwich or, perhaps more accurately said, an emotion sandwich. A memory sandwich. We like to think that life is all so easily categorized and it isn’t. Rooms and houses and people and TV characters and books and family members and all the things and relationships we have in our lives are not made up of single meanings but many. Perhaps all of our lives are word/emotion/memory sandwiches of light and dark.
I recommend the book. There are so many books in the world and so little time in which to read them and the time spent in Room is time well spent.