Critics have all but ignored the obvious religious motifs in Emma Donoghue’s novel Room, including its many references to God, Jesus, and Christian saints. But Donoghue talked about the spiritual framework for her bestseller in an Economist interview about the book, which tells the story of a mother and her 5-year-old son held captive in a backyard garden shed. Here is an excerpt from her comments:
The Economist: Both Ma and Jack pray and, especially in the case of Ma, find comfort in their faith. How does faith figure in to Room?
Emma Donoghue: I’ve always been religiously inclined but it doesn’t come up in most of my books. I always knew it would be central to Room because prisoners cling to whatever tatters of faith they’ve got: look at those Chilean miners and their daily prayer groups. Between you and me, I’m not sure how literally Ma believes in all that, but it certainly makes sense that she would have taken whatever vague Christian framework she had and offered it to Jack as part of her system for making meaning of their days, and keeping hope alive. Kids delight in “magical thinking,” whether in the form of the Tooth Fairy or the saints: whether you see these as comforting lies or eternal verities, they are part of how we help kids make sense of the world. I think that’s why the religious element of Room does not seem to bother non-religious readers; they can just put it on a par with Santa. But for me, Room is a peculiar (and no doubt heretical) battle between Mary and the Devil for young Jesus. If God sounds absent from that triangle, that’s because I think for a small child God’s love is represented, and proved, by mother-love.
You can read the full interview on the Prospero blog for the Economist. And you can read more about the religious motifs in a One-Minute Book Reviews review of Room and in a reading group guide to the novel.