As I write this, I’ve just finished a glorious afternoon in bed watching Lawrence of Arabia for the first time, as part of a personal crusade to see as many winners of the Oscar for “Best Picture” as I can. As much as I’d love to give it a full review here, I will suffice for now by saying that it was fantastic, and a big part of that was due to the awe-inspiring scale of the thing – with widespread desert vistas, a cast of thousands and a running time that is not for the faint of heart, it was truly epic. By contrast, one of the books I read this week functions on maybe the smallest of human scales, spending much of its pages confined to a single small room, with a cast of only 2 people, and yet I was not bored by a single sentence of it. In honour of the film adaptation that’s currently garnering Oscar buzz in some pretty prestigious categories, I read Emma Donoghue’s critically lauded and now Oscar-nominated story Room.
This book bets all its chips on the narrative voice with which it tells its story, and this is where Room shines. Our central protagonist is Jack, an entirely credible 5 year old boy with an enormously compelling voice which drives the entire novel. He shines a light on the story that creates shadow as much as it illuminates – and make no mistake, this story is not afraid to go to some very dark places. In fact, hearing some of those dark things hinted at in the voice of a five year old boy gives them a far greater impact than if they were explicitly stated by an omniscient narrator, as it accentuates the twisted nature of many of the novel’s events. Jack is able to elicit sympathy, laughter, and shock from the reader, somehow maintaining his childhood innocence even while communicating the feelings of other characters and the events of the novel. In Jack and Ma, Donoghue has created two protagonists who I cared for deeply, and involved them in a plot that had me gripped from start to finish.
Room enraptured me in ways that I’d almost forgotten a book could. After reading it for long stretches of time, breaking from it felt like coming up for air after a deep dive. That’s kind of a rubbish analogy though, because it genuinely made the world feel a little bit weird in the hours after reading it – I became very aware of how many stimuli there are in the world a lot of the time, and seeing things through Jack’s eyes made me appreciate the smaller things in life that I never normally notice (in fact, I’m pretty sure it made me temporarily slightly agoraphobic). This book easily lands in my top 10 books of all time, and I look forward to reading more of Donoghue’s work in the future. (Also if you’ve read the book you should definitely read this because it’s fantastic).