Reading far too late into the night last week, I recently finished my first ever digital book—on my iPad 2. I know, I know: is that a little bit of ice I see forming around the entrance to…well, you know, that very bad place?

While I shall never be able to relinquish my library full of worn pages, the feel of paper turning beneath my fingertips, or the scent of the leaves, I have to say that there are definite advantages to reading on my iPad. I don’t need to wake up sleeping people with lights, and I can still read in bed; something about the lighting, font size, and not having to turn physical pages has actually made me an even faster reader (I can read fairly fast to begin with, but with two kiddos, any little uptick of speed really helps); and the copy of the book is easy to port about. Part of me still yearns to hold the book itself in my hands, though everyday we are constantly redefining what the Platonic ideal of “bookness” in this era of technology.

Published in September 2010, Room: A Novel is narrated by Jack, a precocious five-year-old who lives with his Ma in an 11 X 11 room. This room is actually a prison; eight years previously Ma had been kidnapped by the man known as “Old Nick,” who Jack only knows from peering out through the wardrobe when Old Nick makes his nighttime visits to Ma. Ma makes this room Jack’s whole world: he believes that images on TV are a fiction. Days are mostly entirely happy for Jack, as Ma invents games, a track course for Phys Ed, and toys from any scrap they can spare. Eventually Jack becomes aware of the real world outside of the walls around him and what follows is poignant and philosophical.

Author Emma Donoghue actually warns us implicitly about over-analyzing the story: Jack overhears characters later in the novel discussing the similarities between his story and Plato’s cave allegory, an obvious connection. In Jack’s report of that exchange, those with authority caution against a strictly academic interpretation of his story. I am still wondering what to make of this tacit instruction from the author. I am intrigued.

Instead, Donoghue guides us to consider another central issue: Ma’s choice to become pregnant with Jack in the first place. One of the later characters nearly flattens Ma with a question about her choice to conceive Jack at the hands of her tormentor, and thus, to bring Jack into the prison-world with her. It is clear, first of all, that bearing Jack was indeed Ma’s choice: she had conceived but lost a first child, we learn, and we also know that she has had access to birth control. This issue, for me, is the crux and brilliance of the whole novel.

Clearly, we are meant to wrestle with the temptation to excuse Ma’s choices  by reason of her victimhood. Yet, she is still accountable. How can readers question her choices with appearing insensitive? Yet the questioning process is the whole telos (the purpose) of the novel.

In the end, this questioning process that Donoghue artfully constructs brings me to this: in many ways, Ma’s decision to bear Jack is really no different than any mother’s decision to have a child. We bring children into an imperfect world, full of potential horrors, in order to create for them (and through them) a sense of lasting beauty and joy. Inasmuch as Jack and Ma’s room is a microcosm of existence, albeit a bit of an unusual one, Ma is faced really with the same philosophical questions that haunt us all: how far do we go to protect our children from the atrocities in the world? How much can we do to keep them in a perpetual state of innocence? How much do we reveal and when?

I enjoyed the journey of thought that this book took me on. Likewise, I was fascinated by the five-year-old narrator, the main reason I wanted to read it (I love when authors play with narration technique). Donoghue crafted Jack with just the right amount of precocity. Any more, and he would have been unbelievable. Any less, and we would not be able to gather enough plot points to sustain the forward momentum of the story. Even so, there are several issues that remain unresolved and that we have to let go of as readers. For Jack, too, those plot holes are just not important, not even on his radar. Again, the technique of omission comprises one of the ways in which Donoghue guides us toward the goals of her novel.

Has anyone else read Room: A Novel? What did you think? What was your interpretation?

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