Reading Through Rape With Room by Emma Donoghue

I just read a real power house of a book. Like many books, I’d seen this one when it first came out and felt intrigued by the premise. Room revolves around a five year old boy  who has spent his entire life locked in a single room with his mother, imprisoned a captor that comes to sexually abuse her at night. The book being told from the point of view of a child sounded like an interesting approach to telling such a horrible story, but in the end it took me a while to read Room, partially because of my usual excuse of the towering to-read list, and also because of the intense nature of the novel’s subject itself.

Well, a few weeks ago I came across this movie trailer. Turns out they’re making Room into a movie, a really good looking movie, and I was not about to have another book made into a movie before I have the chance to read it (*cough Girl With the Dragon Tattoo cough The Martian cough many many more). That gave me the kick in the pants I needed to go out and read the book. Afterwards, I was only sorry it took me so long to get around to it in the first place.

Reading stories that involve discomforting topics like rape, abuse, and other reprehensible acts can be a very trying process. Handle these delicate topics with grace, though, and you can create a truly powerful text, as Emma Donoghue has done so here.

There is certainly no one way to “properly” write about trauma-inducing events, but Donoghue finds a very powerful through the unreliable narrator that is Jack. When a young child knows only one thing in life, they are bound to take it as the norm, the way things are. Jack retains a sort of childlike innocence and even cheerfulness throughout the book, despite extreme conditions he faces.

Exploring the mind of someone who has lived a life without the outside world, without ever speaking to anyone else except his mother is part of what makes this book so intriguing. The struggle Jack has when he is eventually freed, (and they are freed. I hope you don’t mind me spoiling the fact that this book ends relatively well here) to deal with his sudden change in reality, with things as simple from realizing rocks and trees aren’t just from TV to the strange and process of establishing his identity as a person in a world with far more people than just his mother, who must herself begin the arduous process of rejoining society and making her own space in the world.

Sometimes, Jacks adventures are cute and amusing, sometimes they are heartbreaking. Across every bit of that spectrum, though, Jack’s simple honesty means the reader can always feel a connection to this strange child. He learns what it means to accept other people into his heart, what can and cannot hurt people in the “outside”, and what it takes to build your own person-hood. As strange and unknowable Jack and his life first sound on paper, his story turns out to be own that can resonate deeply with almost any reader.

That’s what brilliant stories can do with painful subjects like rape, kidnapping and abuse. They can take difficult, painful topics and turn them into a powerful narrative, one that has the power to reach out and enlighten people, sometimes even help to heal them. I fully believe Room achieves this admirable goal and encourage anyone, even people unsure about how they would handle these difficult topics, to give Room a chance, and not just wait for this one in theaters.


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