Friday, June 10, 2011

Reflections: Room

Jack is a five-year-old who has lived all his life with his young mom in Room - a single 11 by 11 feet room that has a bed, a TV, a wardrobe, a table, a lamp, a bath tub, and sink. To him, anything outside Room is Outerspace, filled with unreal objects and people, like the ones he sees through TV. Room is his sole reality. But when his mom tells him there is more to the world than Room, and that they should try to go out, his precocious little brain turns topsy-turvy. He no longer knows what is real and what is not, what is right and what is wrong, what has rules and what are free, who he is and who he is not. He can’t even comprehend that there are plenty of other humans who share his name in Outerspace. This riveting novel documents Jack’s experiences.

I don’t want to share too much about this book, for part of what makes it special and gripping is its ambiguity and novel (albeit disturbing) plot-line. So, if you would like to read the book (and I highly recommend it), it’s wise to skip the rest of the post, for I may inadvertently spill a few spoilers.

The whole book is narrated by Jack. Emma Donoghue perfectly takes the voice of a confused and innocent five-year-old, who is markedly different from kids his age. Jack is surely developmentally challenged in some ways, and advanced in some other aspects due to the circumstances of his bizarre upbringing. Donoghue beautifully incorporates his unique personality into the narration. I never believed I would read and appreciate an entire novel narrated by a child who is still learning his rules of grammar; even the grammatical errors have been researched to match a five-year-old’s linguistic development (and of course, Jack’s special case). There is so much attention to detail, yet the sentences flow naturally, totally masking the careful effort and research.

You might wonder how a five-year-old’s stilted narration would have captured the dense themes on identity, and existential crisis. Well, that’s the reason why this book is brilliant! I don’t know how, but through Jack’s endearingly simple and honest questions and thoughts, Donoghue has covered a whole gamut of interesting phenomena that isolation causes. Everything about the book is simple, but very deep. I am also amazed that through a few vague, yet vivid descriptions of Jack’s, all the other characters are given their distinct personalities. It’s a feat! Jack’s psyche is completely and realistically fleshed out.

The book is all about how much we take our minds for granted. It’s a reminder that the minds of children are especially sensitive, malleable, and impressionable that even the most subtlest of things alter their ways of thinking. Even our identity as human beings is intrinsically tied to the ways in which our mind shapes, learns, and grows. Although most of our instincts are ingrained, they fizzle out, or are grossly misplaced if they are not cultivated through structured rules that the mind learns and revises through every interaction in the world. Any hitch to such learning and natural interaction, and it’s nearly impossible to re-learn the fundamentals of life and existence. Nearly impossible, not entirely. The mind is so fascinatingly flexible, elastic, and adaptable, that the process by which it reformulates itself to survive and make sense of the world is simply incredible.

Metaphorically, many of us live inside our own version of Room. We each suffer from different forms of the-frog-in-the-well syndrome. Our reality is tightly constrained by what we believed in at one point in life, and what we choose to selectively believe in. It’s not healthy for us to limit our thinking and understanding of the world to a very small fraction of one side of reality.

The book is a moving and fascinating read. It’s a very interesting psychological study. I am so impressed that the book packs so much emotion and thought through a child’s voice. It's one of my most unique and impressive reads.


8 comments:

Suvasini.... said...

As a coincidence, i ordered my copy a couple of days back and am waiting for it. Have been wanting to read it for a long time but the disturbing plot kind of kept me at bay for a while but i finally decided to plunge. Your timely post has pushed it to the top of my list. . Look forward to it... :)

Neeraja said...

Suvasini, would love to hear your thoughts when you're done with the book! There's so much to discuss about it, but I didn't want to enter into a monologue in this post and give away too much of the story. The plot isn't too difficult to read...you'll be more wrapped up in Jack's mind :)

SecondSight said...

Haha, talk about coincidences. This one is on my list too, and I've been putting it off because it sounded disturbing. You have convinced me otherwise :)

Neeraja said...

Good! It's disturbing, yes, but just at the right level! Just don't read and watch documentaries on real-life cases the book was based on (like i did), and you'll be fine :)

Karthik said...

Your review leaves me curious about how a narration by a five yr old captures it all ! But the setting seems disturbing, so I'll likely give it a miss :-)

Neeraja said...

Karthik, the setting or the story isn't as disturbing. The author balances it well with the development of Jack's psyche :)

Anne said...

I recently read this book and posted my thoughts on it today. While writing I was thinking "Neeraja will definitely like this book" and just came over to check if you've read it already :-)

Neeraja said...

You definitely know me well Anne :)