When I first heard about Room, I wasn’t sure if I had the stomach for it. It called to mind too many awful news stories that I mistakenly came across and stupidly read in the past few years–those true crime stories that you want to turn away from but simultaneously want to know about just like you can’t help but look when you pass an accident on the highway.
The premise of Emma Donoghue’s Room is a dark one. It is narrated by a 5-year-old boy, Jack, who has lived his entire life in a 11X11 shed with his mother where they are kept captive by a man who Jack calls Old Nick. There is a skylight, but no windows. They have TV and a few books, a bath, small fridge, a wardrobe where Jack sleeps on nights when Old Nick comes and bits of toys here and there for Jack to play with. Through Jack’s eyes we see the horror of their situation as we learn just how normal and secure it seems to Jack. For him, there is only Ma and Room, and Outside doesn’t exist except in TV.
Room is engrossing reading, but not for the same reasons that those news stories I mentioned earlier. Jack’s voice and his unique perspective are honored so meticulously. The love he and his mother share is so real is peels right off the page. Jack’s Ma is another remarkable character–whose fierce love for her child creates a sanctuary amidst an unfathomable predicament.
If you’ve read any reviews (SPOILER ALERT!), then you know that Jack and his mother do escape. But the world outside of Room proves treacherous and traumatic in other ways for both Jack and his mother. Donoghue balances their entry into the outside world after Jack’s 5 and his mother’s 7 years in confinement with such nuance and delicacy.
I have read two other books by Donoghue: Slammerkin and The Sealed Letter, both historical novels. After reading Room, I am convinced that Donoghue can write about anything she sets her mind to–and there aren’t so many writers that I feel that way about.
Room is also on the short-list for the Booker Prize, is already a bestseller, and is getting loads of media attention (even Franzen couldn’t stop this one from getting its own limelight), so expect to hear more about it. I would highly recommend it for book groups, although I would understand waiting until it’s in paperback.