By Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Little, Brown Company
Genre: Contemporary Adult Fiction
To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.
Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.
- She has chosen to approach an unsettling but forever relevant topic.
- The choice of narration was a very audacious one.
Bad things exist. There will always be a lurking evil within this world and dangers untold. Therefore, I feel that the need to share and explore those events is critical for a variety of reasons. And I feel that Donoghue has accomplished that to an extent with Room. She has presented a story that dares to tackle what happens to the victim in a very distinctive manner. She has almost successfully explored the human psych through Ma and Jack’s lives. I even applaud her ability to do so with very minuscule mention of “Old Nick” their captor, keeping the reader’s focus drawn appropriately to the victims. While we are forever aware of “Old Nick”, we remain fully engaged in the life of Jack and his Ma. We begin to observe their unsettling reality from a new angle. A reality where life in captivity has been accepted and established as a means of survival.
“’You’re not afraid of monsters, are you?’
‘It depends on the monster, if it’s a real one or not and if it’s where I am.’”
For many it will be Jack’s voice that stands out. Choosing to narrate the entire story through voice of our young protagonist offers a lot of potential. It is a decision that also poses a lot of risk. This choice ultimately sets the stage for the reality of what Room is. Room is world. Room is life. We are hand delivered an unsettling situation that is a little easier to digest due to Jack’s simplistic innocence. A technique I found to be working very well until roughly the 30% mark.
Here is where I am sure many of you might find yourself in disagreement with me. But I began to tire heavily of the childish and slow narration. Often I found myself questioning Jack’s age with the choice of dialog and behavior. I had to pause and constantly remind myself that this was a child raised in complete isolation. It is not fair to compare him to a normal 5 yr old, but at times I could not help but still do so. I know this detracted from the story and was of my own fault. But it just felt “off”. Even given the extreme situation, there was something about Jack and Ma that was no longer clicking for me. I found myself questioning a lot of elements that I felt I should not have. Such as why a mother waits 5 years before making the break? Was this based upon Jack’s own capabilities? Maybe. What was it that triggered this action? Was it concerns for her own failing health? A little more input from Ma here could have been of the most benefit.
I found Jack unable to accurately convey his mother’s true emotions. I was left with an entire half of this story that simply was not being provided in a manner that I could connect with. And for me, it was an important half. I needed it. I did not get it. It was too one-sided.
This soon escalated into an uphill trek. I had to convince myself that I would see this through. So I did. Presented in an unforgivably slow pace that never wavered, the end effect was flat. The atmosphere became devoid of emotion. How did this happen, I asked. Between these pages should lie feelings of compassion, anger, fear.. Yet I was grasping and finding I continued to come back empty-handed. Where was my empathy?
A sliver of redemption came within the last portion of Room. It was the marginally realistic portrayal of trauma and dissociation that was unveiled once Jack and Ma left Room behind that I found of some value. My interest was rekindled for a fleeting moment but also dwindled just as fast.
My time with Room was ordinary when I felt it should have been profound and much deeper. Overall, I felt disconnected and exhausted by the conclusion of Ma and Jack’s story. No specific recommendations for this one.