I was ready and prepared to hate this book, it seemed to hold no attraction, all the warning signs were there: it’s a bestseller, narrated by a five year old boy while dealing with serious and harrowing subject matter, a showy experiment? I feel I would have disliked it had Emma Donoghue not pulled off something quite miraculous; achieving a young voice free of precociousness without allowing the book to slip into something too simple. There was far more to it than I had anticipated.
Inspired by the Joseph Fritzl case, Room tells the story of the imprisonment of Jack and his Ma in a 12 foot square soundproofed shed in the backyard of her abductor ‘Old Nick’. We meet them both on Jacks fifth birthday, his mother was kidnapped two years before Jack was born, at the age of nineteen. They have daily visits from their captor, who brings meagre supplies; the only luxuries are a TV set and half a dozen books. Jack, whose own reality exists entirely within the four walls, believes that everything he sees in their television screen is ‘pretend’. The entire first half takes place in Room, yes, Room with a capital letter and no article (a or the) each thing inside Room is personified, a substitute for genuine company.
Ma emerges as a heroic character, trying to raise her son under the most horrific circumstances. The rituals and routines she has established to keep Jack engaged and mentally stimulated are truly remarkable, for five years, it seems she has devoted every scrap of energy to the development of her son. In a way, Jacks narration is a testament to these efforts, he believes everything is okay and feels safe, even the arrival of ‘Old Nick’ is seen as a benign event through his eyes. This is of course in part down to the limit of Jacks understanding and comprehension, but also because of the positive upbringing he has had.
For me, the novel took its sinister turn when the plans of escape were starting to be discussed and shared. You are reminded at different points throughout the first half exactly how terrifying the situation is, but before any talk of escape Jack remains blind to the...