Friday, February 4, 2011

Book #38: Room's Unique Perspective

"I count one hundred cereal and waterfall the milk that's nearly the same white as the bowls, no splashing, we thank Baby Jesus.  I choose Meltedy Spoon with the white all blobby on his handle when he leaned on the pan of boiling pasta by accident.  Ma doesn't like Meltedy Spoon but he's my favorite because he's not the same."                                                      -Emma Donoghue, Room

I met Emma Donoghue a couple years ago when I had the fortune to have her as my mentor in the writing programme, Diaspora Dialogues.  I had just moved back to Toronto the year before after a failed stint in academia, desperately wanting to return to my first love, creative writing.  Emma was wonderfully incisive and encouraging in her advice on how I could improve a story I'd been struggling with (it was later published in the anthology TOK: Writing the New Toronto).  I recall her advising me, in an email I read many times, to pay careful attention to perspective and which character I wanted the reader to sympathize with at any given moment.

Little did I know that at the time, she must have been putting the finishing touches on her own masterly experiment in perspective, RoomAs I said when I saw her at the book launch, had I known I was being mentored by a Man Booker nominee (fingers crossed for you, Emma!), I would have probably been too overwhelmed to write.  A couple weekends ago, I read Room straight through - unable to put it down except to shower and eat.  I was utterly mesmerized by the freshness of the narrator's voice. 

Although the premise of the novel is horrifying - five-year-old Jack has spent his entire life in captivity, born to a sex slave - the tale is strangely uplifting.  And I don't think this is simply a matter of the novel's narrative arc, as we follow Jack on his escape.  Particularly in the first half, when Jack's entire world consists of Room, I found myself falling in love with how his imagination brings to life the most stripped down environment so that all things appear charged with unique properties and wonder.  Meltedy Spoon, Plant and Spider spark the most delightful reflections in the child's mind, as his language itself appears something malleable and one-of-a-kind.  I loved the experience of entering his world and perversely, I have to admit, I felt a twinge of sadness when he escapes into the "real" world and is compelled to take on the life of a normal little boy.  But Jack will always retain something of his unique perspective, and this is the beauty of Room......

It occurred to me as I was sitting in a room by myself, staring at the white wall, trying to get started on the twelfth chapter of my book, that Room also offers an intriguing metaphor for the writer's life.

Photo from: here


Vi said...

I loved this book! I absolutely fell in love with Jack. I loved Meltedly Spoon just as much as he did.

That's amazing that you had Emma Donoghue as your mentor! I met her very briefly at a book event as she was promoting this book.

Leslie Shimotakahara said...

She was great to work with. I also like how she has such a theatrical reading voice at her events. Not all writers are so entertaining in person!


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About Me

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Toronto, ON, Canada
Leslie Shimotakahara is a writer and recovering academic, who wanted to be simply a writer from before the time she could read. Hard-pressed to answer her parents’ question of how she would support herself as a writer, Leslie got drawn into the labyrinthine study of literature, completing her B.A. in Honours English from McGill in 2000, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern American Literature from Brown in 2006. After graduation, she taught English at St. Francis Xavier University for two years. Leslie woke up one morning and realized that she’d had enough of the Ivory Tower. The fact that she wasn’t doing what she wanted to do with her life loomed over her, and the realization was startling. It was time to stop studying and passively observing life and do something real instead. She needed to discover herself and tell her own story. This blog and the book she has written under the same title (Variety Crossing Press, spring 2012) are her foray. Leslie's writing has been published in WRITE, TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and GENRE.