Room is the Man Booker short-listed 7th novel of Irish Canadian Author Emma Donoghue. And wow what a novel it is. In less sensitive hands it could become a literary “peeping Tom” exploration of some of the most appalling kidnap crimes that we have witnessed in our news, such as Elizabeth Fritzl or Jaycee Lee Dugard but in this author’s incredibly skilful hands
we find ourselves seeing everything through the eyes of a five year old child and seeing a world of such love, warmth and resilience.
Some readers may find this child narrative a bit tricky to start and even hard going but the author has such an understanding of language that it is so believable and is well worth foregoing any slight apprehension.
The action for a large section of the book takes place in a twelve foot square place – Room - the place Jack lives with his Mum – Ma. To Jack, Room is his world. It is all he knows and he is totally happy there.
Ma has helped him give names to all the objects in Room and they are his friends – Wardrobe, Meltedly spoon, Chair, Bed. All written as proper nouns as they are real to Jack. Ma plays games with him, Jack watches Dora on TV, like any other five year old. They even do Phys Ed running and jumping on Bed.
But to Ma Room is a prison. It is the place where she has been kept hostage for over seven years, by the man we come to know as “Old Nick”, when she was kidnapped at the age of 19.
The man who comes to rape her repeatedly each night, whilst Jack is kept safe in Wardrobe.
The story shows us the enormous love between jack and Ma and how the love she has for her son and her determination to keep him safe has kept her alive and sane throughout the torture which she has faced for so long. We see jack occupying himself on the days when Ma is “gone” when she is unable to connect and just lies on the bed paralysed by black thought.
But Ma keeps going, she knows that she must for Jack.
She must get Jack out of Room as he is getting bigger and the prospect of keeping him safe is becoming harder.
She has a plan and we are taken along the nerve shattering journey with them. It is only when, after some incredibly tense pages, they do escape and the book loses Jack’s narrative voice that we see them from others’ point of view and we see the real impact that the years of imprisonment have had on them both physically and psychologically. Now we meet the family who never knew what had happened to their daughter and who certainly had no idea of Jack’s existence.
The book is one which is very difficult to put down. The reader is let into a very intimate world and you feel that the least you can do is to keep reading and be with them on their journey out.
What could be a book of sheer horror and trauma becomes a triumph of parental love and resilience.
The book has now been made into a major new film for which Brie Larson won a well-earned Oscar. She was incredibly well supported by a very talented young actor playing Jack. I would highly recommend that you read the book before watching the film. But please read the book!
Review by Jean, Mind member.