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.