Room

Author: Emma DonoghuePublisher: Picador

Room is a heart-breaking story on a kidnap and sexual abuse victim who undergoes her ordeal while bearing and raising a child in a small fortified garden shed.

As a reader you experience Ma’s imprisonment through her son’s eyes (Jack), who eventually escapes by using a wonderfully simplistic and cleverly written memory game: “Dead, Truck, Run, Police, Save Ma.” It is an endearing picture of Jack’s private world.

The novel doesn’t center around sexual abuse, but on a mother’s sacrifice to ensure that her 5-year-old son survives in the garden shed and, later on, a hostile outside world.

Donoghue cleverly builds Jack’s confined world by introducing Rug, Ceiling and Wardrobe, who become Jack’s personified play-mates and serve as substitutes for his non-existing family. Not being aware of his own predicament, Jack is convinced that the outside world on TV doesn’t acutally exist. When Jack eventually escapes into the new reality of the outside world he experiences for the first time what it is like to live in a wide open space inhabited by many people. It is also for the first time that his mother is no longer always by his side.

Although Room isn’t the cheeriest of novels, it is especially sad to see that once Jack has escaped, he cannot adapt to our world. Once Jack is admitted to a mental hospital readers will start to realise that he might never fully recover from his ordeal. Through the windows of this institution, Jack still can’t make up his mind if those people in the street are real, or only moving colours shaped like people.

Donoghue challenges readers to question our perception of reality, adaptability and acceptance. After Jack’s experience, you cannot help wondering whether he would be better off in his “Room” or in our society.

3 thoughts on “Room

  1. Confusingly, the back cover of this novel includes quotes by, among others, two authors (Audrey Niffeneger and Michael Cunningham), one of whom I love and one not so. The blurb made the book sound too close to the tragi-lit of which there is so much these days. I was also surprised that it was shortlisted for the Booker at the expense of, among others, Alan Warner’s mighty ‘All the stars in the bright sky’. After reading this review, I’m tempted to give it a go.

  2. I see what you mean Graeme; I too had my reservations when reading its blurb & first reviews. However, after reading Room I would definitely recommend it, as Donoghue’s portrayal and characterization of Jack is simply quite wonderful.

  3. I’ve just read Room and have been sifting through reviews to try and find just one which regards the novel as optimistic. Sadly, that hasn’t happened yet. What I have come across is plenty of reviews like this, where the perception is that Jack’s inability to immediately integrate with the outside world is as big a/bigger tragedy than his incaceration in Room.

    But this isn’t true. Yes, Jack’s been defamiliarised, and all that he knows has been snatched from him. But I can’t help thinking that the struggles hs experiences are merely indicative of this transient, inbetween-room-inbetween-adjusted, state; rather than being indicators of life-long damage. If we think of the example you gave above (his admission to a psych hospital and struggles with acclimatisation), what else would we reasonably expect from a five year old who’s never experienced fresh air?

    At the end of the novel, when Jack lifts up his Ma’s T-shirt to get ‘some’ but is told that he can’t, his swift acceptance is a much better indicator of how well he is adapting to change and life on the outside. This, to me, demonstrates the crux of the novel’s message on human survival and the strength of maternal love.

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