Babies and books things

by Jess

Baby got borned, two weeks ago today. I call him Segundo, not just because he’s my second son, although he is, but also because I have been listening almost exclusively to Compay Segundo and his buddies in the Buena Vista Social Club (well, that and The Format). I don’t ever get tired of that CD.

So with baby boys on my mind, it’s fitting to write a word or two about Emma Donoghue’s novel Room. It’s written entirely from the perspective of Jack, a five-year-old boy who has been trapped in an 11-by-11-foot room since he was born, along with his mother who was kidnapped and raped by a man he calls Old Nick. Sounds pretty rough, but the whimsy and innocence of Jack’s narration makes it bearable and somehow like a great big adventure. And the tenderness between him and his mother is almost painfully beautiful at times. As Janet Maslin says in her New York Times review, “One of his favorite books is ‘The Runaway Bunny,’ a tale that raises the thought that a mother and child could be separated. That’s still scarier than anything else he can imagine.”

I don’t know if any novel could (or should) be contained entirely within an 11-by-11 room, so I’ll go ahead and spoil it for you: they escape, and the second half of the book is about the equally terrifying adventure of adapting to the outside world. The two halves of the novel read almost like different books, the energy is so disparate. I think I preferred the first half, maybe just because it was so unusual and so finely written. I agree with some reviews I’ve read that Jack’s voice can get a bit tiring or too “cutesy,” but I really didn’t mind it all that much, and I found that when all the tightly wound tension of the first half rushed out in a frenzy, the end lost some of its resonance for me.

It’s quite an engaging read — I think I tore through it in about a day — and chilling because it’s similar to a few recent real-life horror stories. Room won or was short-listed for a number of awards, and it’s certainly worth a looksee.