Room sets off on a Movie-of-the-Week premise – five-year old Jack has lived his entire life in a single room, victim along with his mom (Ma) of a tabloid kidnapping/imprisonment – and takes it farther, into Ellie Wiesel territory; human-kind’s capacity for adaptation, the saving power of love and the forces shaping one’s perception and world view. In doing so, it goes way beyond genre and expectation, offering insights relevant well-beyond the tiny population who’ve suffered any similar fates. Donoghue’s hand is, for the most part, light, as we sense Ma’s desperate coping mechanisms only thru Jack’s child-centric perceptions. Donoghue allows us to feel the desperation of their escape attempt (the least believable element, until the Opra-esque TV interview which follows it) and the awkwardness of reunion with others after 7 years in their own little world. The novel’s intent at brevity is evident in some after-escape segments, but all in all that is a blessing, as Jack’s first-person voice can be a bit tiresome.
The final beats reinforce the author’s strongest theme – that for Jack their tiny room was not a prison, but home, and in some ways a bit of a paradise: Ma all to himself 24/7/365, safe and filled with all he had ever known – and nearly all he ever wanted. By making it his only world, Ma protected her baby, but at the same time, prevented him from understanding his true fate, and so from growing beyond its four, very limiting, walls
A useful analogy, and a keeper of a tale.
Wonderful surprise; a rock-n-roll novel that feels true and real while transcending its setting and subject to reveal real thought and humanity, rising beyond the stereotypes and neuroses.
As much as I enjoyed the dissolute rock-star Jimmy Cross – skillfully complexified by Tussing – and the protagonist Peter Silver, it is the exploration of obsessive fan Arthur Pennyman (‘Everyman’?) which jolts this out of genre, as he gains a love interest and a life. Or perhaps it is really the women – Arthur’s Rosslyn, Peter’s Maya and Jimmy’s Judith – who humanize the men and the novel. In any case, it is the relationships and dynamics that surprise and reward here, not the drunken debauchery, which comes across mostly as habit and self-medication rather than joyful or even truly sordid.
A human and humane story set in a milieu not typically known for either, spun out with a sure hand, even down to Pennyman’s obsession with footnoting.
(Footnote – I look forward to checking out ‘The Best People in the World’ Tussing’s earlier novel, which is listed as winner of a Ken Kesey Award)
McEwan still has the power to surprise; to anticipate what his reader will be thinking and make hay of it.
All through this I wondered at the reason behind his writing in Serena’s first person and what sort of personal whimsy or predilection might be behind it. That he (she ) wonders if there might be a hint of gender issues in Tom Haley’s writing (and persona) led me to wonder (not for the first time) just the same about McEwan. Then here she comes in the final epistle to toy again with the theme, but now from Tom’s point of view,and at the same time, reveal the he (McEwan) has, all the time, been writing in Tom’s persona as he (Tom) attempts to write from Serena’s point of view! Almost more fun in the diagram than in the execution, still, McEwan’s Serena is mostly credible ( and where not, one can grant that it is just Tom’s failure, not McEwan’s). Interesting and just kinky enough to add spice.
No masterpiece, but a fun spy story with more human insight and value then any but the best of its genre.