Room by Emma Donoghue is a story that I put off reading for quite some time. We knew the subject matter would be hard to get through, but ultimately I made myself pick up a copy and get to reading. If nothing else I wanted to be ready to compare the book to the movie staring Brie Larson, Joan Allen, and William H. Macy. I was sure that if I could read Push by Sapphire I could get through Room. I was correct, but Room still brought me to tears.
Room is told entirely from the point of view of Jack, a boy who is just turning five. Jack describes his routine with Ma and he seems like a bright, curious, little boy who is excited about his special day. As the story progresses it becomes apparent that something is very wrong with Jack’s life as he describes “room”, the small space he shares with his mother, and casually mentions his mother’s medical (both physical and psychological) issues. The story quickly takes a darker turn as Jack references a man he calls “Old Nick” who visits room nightly while Jack himself sleeps in a wardrobe. Jack knows that Old Nick is coming when he hears the electronic key pad being accessed and Jack often counts the creaking of the bed before falling asleep.
Ma has always convinced Jack that their life and small world is perfectly normal in an effort to keep him from questioning their situation. However, when Old Nick begins punishing them by withhold food, electricity, and hot water Ma realizes that they are in danger. She explains to Jack that she was kidnapped seven years ago and that Old Nick is holding them captive. Ma devises a plan for the two of them to escape and, when it succeeds, the two find themselves thrust into a world that is much changed. Overwhelmed by the wider world, their treatment by those around them, and affected by their years of captivity the pair must learn to survive outside of room.
What I Liked
I was very impressed by how well Donoghue was able to write the book from the perspective of a child. Many of my favorite authors often struggle when it comes to tackling the point of view of children. In contrast Donoghue created a believable and appealing narration that held me completely spellbound. I felt as if I knew Jack and his voice reminded me of the innocent curiosity I see in the children in my own family. There were times where I initially did not understand what Jack was referring to, but often once it became apparent I found myself feeling either disturbed or amused.
Donough was able to bring Jack and Ma’s horrifying situation to life through her use of vivid (often painfully so) detail. After reading certain parts of the book I was forced to go outside and enjoy some fresh air because the walls actually felt like they were closing in on me. Once the pair were rescued I expected things to get better, but instead I was shocked by the number of (very believable) problems they encountered. It was obvious that the author spent time researching real life cases of isolation, long term abuse, and the children who were born into these situations.
What Frustrated Me
Yes, I really enjoyed Room and have read it twice but there were times where the characters seemed inconsistent. One minute they were all conscientious of Jack, his celebrity, and his life of isolation then the next minute they were exasperated by his fears or thoughtlessly taking him to public settings. The plot points did help illustrate how overwhelming things were for Jack, but I often questioned the actions/motives since the entire story takes place in a matter of weeks.
My only regret about reading this story is that I waited so many years to sit down with a copy. Room is an excellent book with a unique story to tell that I believe anyone would benefit from reading. There was no gratuitous violence, sex, etc. which was refreshing given the subject matter. There were certain topics (primarily breastfeeding) that some other readers found uncomfortable but considering the situation those few things should not be the “shocking” parts of the story.