Usually, when I am so transfixed by a novel that I can not put it down, it’s in the non-literary genres of romance or mystery. These fast-paced novels are like monosodium glutamate for the mind; the mind keeps ingesting the words, regardless of quality and integrity, until the words are all gone; the woman has the man; the killer’s been caught and the mystery solved. Afterwards, you life is not improved, but it sure was a fun ride while it lasted.
The selections of my Expat Book club, on the other hand, are the steamed broccoli, high omega fish and long grain rice of novels. They provide thought-provoking literary journeys that not only offset your binge reading, but may even make a healthy contribution to your world view.
And thus, when I headed to the American Bookstore to purchase The Room, the latest Book Club selection, I anticipated another literary journey. I approached this novel as I approach most of the selected books for my Expat Book Club–buy it last-minute without much background on the subject matter and dive right in. But I truly believe, had I known the subject matter of Emma Donoghue’s The Room, I would have never cracked it open in the first place.
The Room deals with a horrible topic; an experience you would not wish on your worst enemy. And yet, it is so incredibly well written, and the characters so real, that you cannot will yourself to put it down. This inability to step off the ride is not in that junky, horror film way. It is as if through the very act of reading, you are a spirit watching and willing the main characters to not only survive, but to break free and overcome their insurmountable situation. Yet you do so from a safe distance; outside of the page, outside of their world. They, on the other hand are locked inside and you desperately want them to be free.
The majority of the book is presented through the innocence of a five-year old boy. And even though you read with your adult eyes, and realize what he has not yet been able or willing to realize, you are drawn into the innocence of the world his mother has created for him. And as the situation grows more desperate, you read on as if for the sake of humanity itself.
You may be tempted, like I was, to flip to the back of the book and see what happens with the characters. Because if they aren’t going to make it through, why on earth would I want to invest the time reading about something so awful? Well, because ignoring it won’t make it go away. Being aware of how easily something like this could happen could perhaps wake us all up a bit more; keep us on our toes. Not locked in fear or obsessing about what ifs, but on our toes; aware; looking out for ourselves as well as others.
I know I’m being vague. I know you can Google The Room by Emma Donoghue right now and figure out what it’s about. But if you do, you’ll rob yourself of the journey. It’s heavy. You may even feel sick at times. But if you just keep reading all the way through, you will come out on the other side with a sense of hope. Hope and possibly the desire to find out what you can do to help eradicate this very real situation that affects far more people than we’d ever care to admit.