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Friday, September 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 59.0° F  Partly Cloudy with Haze
Arts
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A Book A Week: Room by Emma Donoghue
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Inspired by real-life events, Room is the story of a mother and son who are imprisoned in a garden shed by the mother's rapist. It's also the story of their rescue and reintegration into society. The narrator is the son Jack, who was born in the shed, and is 5 years old when the story begins.

Sounds disturbing, no? Everyone I know thinks so, and is avoiding this book. I was too. But a friend pushed it on me, and assured me that it was safe to read, and she was right! Don't be put off by the alarming subject matter, and the nontraditional narrator. It's really really good.

I loved how Donoghue captures mothering at its most elemental level. The relationship between mother and son sustains them both, and the small daily pleasures (bath time, cuddle time, even TV time) are intense and life-affirming. Jack is a delightful child and his mother instinctively responds to him in the best possible way. Jack's humor, and after their rescue, his wonder at the wider world, are the best parts of the book.

The author has said that she thought it would be too disturbing to have the mother narrate the story and I think she is right. By placing Jack (happy, loving, and curious) at the center, she keeps the mother's terror at arm's length, letting us view it from a safe distance.

A few people have commented that they were shocked that Jack's mother still nursed him at age 5. That reaction really disturbed me. This is a book about kidnapping and repeated rape. That's not shocking, but the breastfeeding is? How very sad. I guess, if you are the kind of person who is scared to read about breastfeeding, maybe this isn't a book for you.


Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.

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