Posted on 08 May 2013

If you’ve read Room by Emma Donoghue, you surely couldn’t help but think of this novel when the escape of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight hit the news.

Room, published in 2010, is told from the point of view of 5-year-old Jack, who lives with his long-imprisoned mother in a single room and develops a growing curiosity about the outside world just as he’s about to be thrust into it. Donoghue has cited the famed Fritzl case in Austria among several influences for her novel, but stressed it wasn’t the key driver of the work.

In this Guardian interview, she explains:

In the run-up to publication, however, word was that Donoghue’s seventh novel would be based on the modern-day case of Josef Fritzl, who locked his daughter, Elisabeth, in a basement for 24 years, raped her repeatedly and fathered her seven children – three of whom he imprisoned with her. Unsurprisingly, accusations of cynicism and sensationalism abounded. When I meet Donoghue, halfway through a publication tour that has mushroomed thanks to her longlisting, she recalls the period as “quite painful. A lot of people made out I was writing this sinister, money-making book to exploit the grief of victims. I was thinking, it’s not like that, but no one will know until they read it.”

She is keen, too, to contextualise the link between her novel and the Fritzl case. “To say Room is based on the Fritzl case is too strong,” she says firmly. “I’d say it was triggered by it. The newspaper reports of Felix Fritzl [Elisabeth’s son], aged five, emerging into a world he didn’t know about, put the idea into my head. That notion of the wide-eyed child emerging into the world like a Martian coming to Earth: it seized me.”

Here in Cleveland, things are still hectic. A coworker who lives only streets away from the house where the women were held reports frustrating, round-the-clock filming, media coverage, and curious onlookers. As for me, I’ve found myself suggesting Room to a few friends. I would like to think that my own desire to re-read the novel is not based on voyeurism, but rather because this is a story that, in Donoghue’s words, has the capacity to seize us.

9 responses to Seized

  • Tricia says:

    That novel was one of the first things I thought of. Many people I know say they’re “afraid” to read it. I sort of was, too. But it’s far from exploitive. Having read it, I’m feeling very protective and anxious for those women and how they will fare now.

  • Downith says:

    Like Tricia I was initially afraid to read Room, until someone in the blogging circle (can’t remember who?) got me past that.

    The book has incredible staying power and of course I too thought of it when this latest incident hit the news. And yes, I’m feeling anxious for these women and their families as I remember how Ma and her family reacted when she was freed.

  • Teri says:

    I remember reading ROOM in 2 days. What captivated me was not the voyeuristic thing at all, it was the humanity of the mother and her child, Jack. How she used what little she had to educate him and make his world as big as she could in that small room.

    And seeing the outside world through Jack’s eyes has stuck with me. I still remember them driving by a park, and then another park, and another, and Jack saying, “The world is full of repeats.”

    We have so much, and we don’t even see it.

  • Erika Marks says:

    I will be the true wuss in the, um, room here and say that now I think I have even less fortitude to read ROOM than I might have before. I am so desperately relieved and worried for these girls. I wish the world would let them find their quiet as they try and recover. Who can imagine the road they face, the horrors and the hurt in their hearts? My own heart breaks for them and hopes that they feel the love and concern coming from the world around them now, like a blanket.

    • As others have pointed out here, the book actually isn’t painful to read — it’s a story with a lot of pain, obviously, but it’s really about resilience. You might be surprised by it.

  • Catherine says:

    I also haven’t read Room although I’ve enjoyed some of Donoghue’s stories. The idea is just so horrific I find it hard to contemplate. I’m sure the novel shows another aspect of the horror, and Donoghue is a beautiful writer, but I’ve always swerved away from this book. The only uplifting thing I’ve read about the kidnapped Cleveland women is that they are rejoicing in their freedom – I’m just so glad their spirits have not been broken.

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