I’ve read a lot of books. Only since I started writing have I become particularly critical of what I read. So I’ve decided to share some of my thoughts on the books that I read. Not as a reader, but as a writer. Please take these thoughts as my own and how I felt when reading this novel, as someone who writes and who struggles to write.
“Jack is five, and excited about his birthday. He lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures eleven feet by eleven feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real – only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until the day Ma admits that there’s a world outside…”
I remember all the hype about this book when it was first published, and when it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2010. I don’t know why I didn’t read it sooner. I have to say, I really enjoyed reading it.
The story is narrated by five year old Jack and Donoghue does a remarkable job of keeping within the parameters that such a limited world view necessitates. However, as a result Jack does come across as a very intelligent five year old.
What I really admired is that Donoghue doesn’t end the story with their escape from Room. In fact, I’d say that the escape happens at approximately half way through. The real story in this novel is how Jack and his Ma cope with ‘Outside’. I also appreciated that they come full circle, and that the book culminates with them back in Room, saying goodbye.
I think Donoghue’s skill lies in describing the world from Jack’s point of view. As a five year old he can not understand the intricate moods and expressions of everyone in the world, excepting perhaps Ma (but even here he sometimes struggles and misinterprets). Despite being limited by Jack’s experience Donoghue somehow allows Jack to describe just enough that you as the reader understand the undercurrents occurring beneath Jack’s own superficial interpretation. This is possibly best illustrated during the time that Jack is with his Grandma and how Jack explains how his Grandma acts, but does not comprehend that these actions resonate as emotion.
It’s safe to say that having this novel told by Jack is what makes it so endearing. It’s not typical, which makes it special. The fact that it’s about sexual abuse and survival also makes it compelling. However, I have to admit that as much as I enjoyed reading it, there was no sense of urgency to the narrative. Whether that’s because Jack, as a five year old, has a minimal understanding of time, or because Donoghue’s writing just can’t express the immediacy of fear and danger in such circumstances, I’m not sure.
If, as a writer, you want to understand a little bit more about how you show character rather than tell it, I’d advise you to read this book. Being restricted by Jack’s viewpoint means that you have to read into a lot of what he describes. It may make you work that little bit hard as a reader, but from a writer’s perspective, it’s an interesting technique that deserves some recognition.
Writer’s Review: The Secret Garden
Have you read this book? What did you think?