Room, by Emma Donoghue (Little, Brown and Co., 2010), was like nothing I’ve ever read before. Like The Book Thief, Room is narrated in an unusual way. The story is told through the eyes of 5-year-old Jack, a little boy who’s spent his whole life in an 11’x11′ room with his Ma. Hearing the story of a young woman’s kidnapping and confinement through the filter of a 5-year-old gives the story a new depth and constantly throws you into a new, unusual perspective.
If you’ve spent much time talking to 5 year olds, you’ll know that they haven’t quite mastered the nuances of our tricky English language. Those sneaky pronouns, irregular past tense verbs and complicated sentence structures get in the way when Jack tells the story, but, like reading in a foreign language, once you get used to the patterns and “Jack-speak”, the book’s narrative flows much more smoothly, allowing you to get swept into the story.
Jack and Ma (we never do learn her “other two names”, as Jack deems them unnecessary because Ma already has a name: Ma) have a daily routine in Room. (Jack personifies a lot of inanimate objects, and considers them his friends) Jack’s whole world is in Room, his friends are the five picture books he can read by himself, Bed, Duvet, Wardrobe, Rug, Plant, Egg-snake under the bed, and his TV friend Dora. When Jack begins to outgrow the confines of Room, Ma breaks down, tells him the story of her kidnapping and “unlies” the truth of Outside. They plan a scary, brave (“scrave”) escape and I don’t feel like it’s a spoiler if I tell you that they are successful because…
The second half of the book focuses on Ma and Jack adjusting to life in Outside. We meet Jack’s grandparents and, through Jack’s very real child’s perspective, get a glimpse of how the fringe characters had adjusted to Ma’s disappearance.
While the events in this story are horrifying to think about: kidnapping, repeated rape, a child growing up in a tiny, 11’x11′ space, they are told with a contrasting attitude of normalcy and a perspective that will keep you turning pages. Jack’s voice and point of view keep the story light and straightforward. Any “oh, how awful it must’ve been” voices are all on the periphery, mostly from the outside world after the big escape.
What really stood out to me in this story is the bond between Jack and Ma, the courage and creativity she used to create as normal of a life as was possible for her little boy in their confined space, and the fierce protectiveness Jack and Ma feel toward each other. Rather than being a depressing Debbie Downer, Room was full of hope and life.
Bottom line: If you are looking for a unique, perspective-changing, thought-provoking book, I definitely recommend Room. If you’re still not sure about it, check out this great review by The Guardian’s Nicola Barr. Or this interview with author Emma Donoghue: