As promised, I am recommending a recent book. Room, written by Irish author Emma Donoghue, was published in 2010 — in this selfsame decade!
And it’s an incredible book. Incredible, firstly, in the literal sense of the word: it teeters on the edge of unbelievability because its subject matter — its concept — is pretty extreme. In the hands of another author, it might not have worked. But Donoghue makes it work. Room is also incredible in the other sense of the word — when you are finished reading it, you feel as though you have just experienced something pretty extraordinary.
Room is narrated by a boy named Jack, and the book opens on his fifth birthday. Like most children, Jack has been taught to distinguish between things that are “real” and things that are “only on TV” — except in Jack’s case, the latter category includes things like dogs and oceans and forests. This is because Jack has spent his entire life in a room that measures 11 feet by 11 feet. At the book’s opening, Jack is an unwitting captive who lives with his mother, who has been imprisoned since before his birth.
In Room, the author has done an excellent job with a very limited point of view — a five-year old’s understanding and perspective are wildly different from an adult’s, but Donoghue writes Jack’s voice and thoughts in such a convincing way that I believed I was in the mind of a child, except for a few occasions where a turn of phrase or insight would strike me as unbelievable. I cringed, for instance, when Jack dismissed one of his mother’s explanations, saying “that’s crazy math,” or when he described himself as feeling “giddy” — I have trouble believing that even a precocious five year-old could make such a judgment or grasp such a concept. But happily, I found these moments of incongruity to be few and far between.
I’m tempted to say a lot more about this book, but I think I risk lessening your enjoyment of it if I do; if you choose to read it, I think you should go in as I did, without knowing much. One caveat: there is a fair share of disturbing material in here, given the subject matter. Now that you know that, let me do this one final pitch: this book is unputdownable. The plot is riveting. The characters (especially the narrating protagonist) are fully-fleshed and endearing. The dialogue is entirely believable (one of my pet peeves as a reader is cheesy or artificial-sounding dialogue). This is definitely worth the few days that you’ll spend reading it…that is, if you can bear to have it spread out over a few days. Really, it’s that compelling a story — at least, it was for me.
Any thoughts about Room? Comments on the book or alternate recommendations are welcome!