Posted by: Ele Quigan | September 4, 2010

‘Room’ Emma Donoghue

Like everyone else, I was horrified by the Fritzl case. Beyond the idea of homebirth, and raising a family in such a confined environment, trying to consider how the family might come to terms with the horrors of their early life, and adjust to coping outside their four walls.

With some trepidation I picked up ‘Room’ as it was Booker long listed (and I’m always looking for a recommendation for a book to read, and the Booker long list seemed like an okay place to start).

It’s written from the perspective of a 5 year old child, who has no idea that what is on TV is real, and that Room is all there is. Similar to ‘The curious incident of the dog in the night-time’ you’re reading the confusion, the loves and hates, and the lack of understanding from a small child – adding to the overarching feeling of overwhelming dread and fear as they visit ‘Outside

There are lots of little snippets that make you wonder how the families and kidnapped children of the world have survived. Like the smell of fresh air whenever the door to outside is opened, if only for a few minutes, Sundaytreats – where one special thing can be requested every Sunday, which occasionally is something as seemingly mundane as painkillers.

Obviously, the book is depressing. But in saying that there was something in it that didn’t sit quite right with me. When the mother goes to speak to the media, she’s advised to by her lawyer saying ‘You need to tell your story before somebody else does’. It started making me think of the real horror stories, and how the media has capitalised on that. Elisabeth Fritzl came close to a breakdown after an english paparazzo entered her kitchen in her safehouse trying to take photos, Natascha Kampusch has her own talk show…

Why do we follow these horror stories? Why are we interested in this absolute baseness of humanity? Is this book capitalising on these other real life stories? or is it trying to draw attention to what’s going on in our neighbours backyards?

I read the book in one evening so haven’t had too much time to mull over the various elements, however the standout is how much the mother tried to not only instill learning and exercise, but also trying to signify to the outside world something was going on through games. On weekdays there was always time in the day for screaming as loud as they could, and ‘Lights’ – turning the lights on and off trying to alert outsiders to their situation. Devastating.

It reminds me of ‘Bystander effect’ – essentially where people see/hear things happening and do nothing. This world is a terrible place sometimes, I guess all I can hope is that if I se/hear something serious I’ll make an effort to do something, and once we’re outside of this emotionally isolated apartment living, I’ll be checking the backyards of the houses next door to lights flashing on and off at strange times of the night…


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