First, my apologies! Even though this is completely embarrassing to admit, yesterday (Thursday, the day we were supposed to discuss this novel) I spent the entire day thinking it was Wednesday. I’m blaming it on the end of the school year. So forgive me for not having this discussion up and ready to go. Now, without futher ado, let’s discuss Room by Emma Donoghue. A plot summary and possible discussion questions are below, but feel free to respond to the novel in any way you’d like.
In many ways, Jack is a typical 5-year-old. He likes to read books, watch TV, and play games with his Ma. But Jack is different in a big way–he has lived his entire life in a single room, sharing the tiny space with only his mother and an unnerving nighttime visitor known as Old Nick. For Jack, Room is the only world he knows, but for Ma, it is a prison in which she has tried to craft a normal life for her son. When their insular world suddenly expands beyond the confines of their four walls, the consequences are piercing and extraordinary. Despite its profoundly disturbing premise, Emma Donoghue’s Room is rife with moments of hope and beauty, and the dogged determination to live, even in the most desolate circumstances. A stunning and original novel of survival in captivity, readers who enter Room will leave staggered, as though, like Jack, they are seeing the world for the very first time. –Lynette Mong, Amazon Best of the Month Sept. 2010
1-Room tells a harrowing story, but Donoghue’s decision to have a 5-year-old boy narrate the novel blunts some of the horror as it is filtered through his perception. What did you think about Donoghue’s decision to use Jack as the narrator? What were the benefits and drawbacks of this decision?
2-Donoghue said the following about her novel: “Room is a universal story of parenthood and childhood, and in Jack and Ma’s relationship I wanted to dramatize the full range of extraordinary emotions parents and children feel for each other: to put mothering in a weird spotlight and test it to its limits. Because it does have limits. Yes, Room celebrates mother-love but it also painfully calculates those moments when Ma has to recognize that Jack needs something other than her protection. Those moments all parents come to when love takes the form of stepping back, letting go.”
What do you admire about Ma? If you were in her situation, what would you have done differently? Even if you disagreed with some of Ma’s choices, could you understand why she made them?
3-What parallels can you draw between Jack’s expulsion from his confined and limited but relatively “safe” existence in Room into the chaos and danger of the real world, and Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden? Do you see any other religious themes in this novel?
4-Donoghue has revealed that the idea for Room sprang from news reports about Elizabeth Fritzl, an Austrian woman who’d been kept captive by her father Josef for 24 years, resulting in the birth of seven children. When asked about this association, Donoghue said, “I was naive about what that association would do; soon Room was being misdescribed and attacked as ‘a novel about Josef Fritzl’. This began to ease as soon as the book was published, because almost every review defended my novel as not-the-exploitation-story-they’d-expected. But it has still left me with the fervent wish that no book of mine will ever be linked to a real contemporary case again. . . . Something I tried to explore in the second half of the novel is the complicated soup of sympathy, nosiness, squeamishness, sentimentality and judgmentalism in which such cases [like the Fritzl case] float. Tweets, websites, tv interviews, they all serve our voyeuristic craving for details of awful cases, and we all share the blame.”
How does Donoghue critique the media in the second half of the novel? Should she be included in the critique as the author of a novel that has a sensational news story as its genesis? How should we feel about our own fascination or interest in such stories? Is it pure voyeurism, or are our motives more complicated?