Room: Disturbingly Enjoyable


I didn’t want to like Emma Donoghue’s *Room*. I resisted reading it until now – despite the swells of book-club interest, the claims of brilliance from fellow readers – because there seemed something exploitative and disturbing about the idea of a child protagonist narrating his experiences first held captive in a 12×12 room and then emerging to be reintegrated into “normal” life. 

And there was something disturbing out of the pleasure I took in reading it – the rapturous irresistibility of the narrative. I had trouble putting it down – first wanting to know what depraved and horrifying passage might come next, and later wanting to observe the herculean task of reorienting these “victims” into the Outside. Like watching one of the many crime procedurals the fascination must be one of pleasure: do we want to experience something similar (as perpetrators? as voyeurs? as victims?) or do we attend to these stories of the depraved in humanity because it reminds us of what we are capable of and congratulates us for the smart choices we’ve made in *not* succumbing to these base impulses.

I’m not sure what the cause of the pleasure, but I found myself very much enjoying the story and from that enjoyment very much disturbed by my pleasure. And disturbed, too, for the thousands (millions?) of fellow readers who felt similarly drawn to this story (hopefully with as much reflexive concern for their own pleasure, but I suspect more likely aghast by the “horror” and “darkness” and “how-could-he” – which is not the same as me thinking that I’m somehow more insightful than all the other readers, rather I think I’m willing in this space to be honest and because it’s scary and vulnerable to say you took pleasure in the abuse of others). 

I should read something about reader-viewer pleasure in watching disturbing violence. I’m sure there’s something good out there – suggestions? – that could nuance my reading of *Room*, but as it stands I’ll just have to say – with a decided lack of theoretic depth – I *enjoyed* the book and I wish I hadn’t.


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Filed under Canadian Literature, Fiction, Prize Winner

One response to “Room: Disturbingly Enjoyable

  1. Pingback: Akin: In which I am bossy about how a plot should behave | Literary Vice

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