I finally read Room after years of putting it off. I have a lot of trouble reading about people being kidnapped and violence in general. However, I feel this story was very well told and the subject was brilliantly treated too. The general storyline is about Ma and Jack who are trapped in a 11 x 11 foot room, with the only window being a very high skylight . The room is sound proof and perfectly self-contained, sealed off from the world. Ma has been held captive there since she was 19 years old and she is 26 when the story begins. Jack who is only five was born there and has never experienced the outside world. He only knows the outside world through watching television. He is the narrator of the story who takes us through their harrowing journey, using his special language.
Jack describes his world, the room, with as much detail as a five-year old with limited vocabulary can. It isn’t difficult to get a sense of how things are. He is a very intelligent little boy who knows a lot of things for his age, but not a lot about the simple things in life, like falling rain, playing at the park, or feeling sand between his toes. In spite of the close quarters, Ma manages to adapt their activities to accommodate Jack’s growth. She is very clever with teaching and explaining things to him. She does all of this while tying to preserve his innocence and trying to keep her sanity. She doesn’t want to frighten him, by telling him too much too quickly.
As the story goes on, we quickly start to understand that the room is home for Jack and a prison for Ma. Old Nick the captor, is a cold, unfeeling, obtuse person, and it’s because of those reasons Ma and Jack manage to escape. I commend Emma Donoghue on her capacity to maintain the voice of a five-year old little boy captive. This couldn’t have been easy. She cleverly chose how to express his emotions and his desires in a believable way. Towards the end of the novel, I found myself thinking that Jack was a little spoiled, but had to keep reminding myself that he’d been trapped in a room for 5 years. It’s hard not to root for this mother and son and to not think about all the recent cases we’ve heard about people in the same situation and wonder how they survived and to what end.
Room is a beautifully written novel. It will grip you, break your heart, wake up your senses (especially smell), and give you a glimmer of hope in the end. I urge you all to pick it up. Donoghue was beat out of the Man Book Prize 2010 by Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question, which received a measly 2.75 stars on Goodreads, whereas Room received 3.96 stars. Regardless, I look forward to reading The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue, which was published in 2008 and was an Orange Prize for Fiction Longlist in 2012.