Living so much to it’s hype, I enjoyed this book so much. Well that is an understatement considering how many times I have to stop and feel a lot of the book’s emotionally moving sentences.
Written by Irish-born Canadian writer Emma Donoghue, Room is about a young woman, kidnapped when she was 19 years old and was made to stay in a 12-foot square reinforced shed for seven years. Raped repeatedly since her abduction by a man they only call as Old Nick, she bore a child who is now 5 years old and she named him Jack. After it’s release it went on to become a New York Times bestseller for Fiction and eventually made it to the newspaper’s 2010 Best Books of the Year list. It was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize that same year.
The book was inspired by the horrifying real-life case of Elisabeth Fritzl from Austria, a woman who was kept imprisoned by her incestuous father, Josef Fritzl, in a soundproof dungeon in his basement for 24 years. She bore him seven children (and one miscarriage) who were also kept imprisoned until their rescue.
“Ma”, as Jack calls her mom (readers will never know her real name), spent the last five years taking care of his son in their tiny room while at the same time preserving her own sanity. She made it a choice to not explain their situation to Jack. She made it appear that their world is just in the room where they live. Jack has no idea that there is a bigger world outside. Their limited freedom though did not become a hindrance to limit the story. Donoghue is very ingenuous in creating a distinct world for the two that it so private that I as a reader felt so wrong in entering. The mother made every possible way to entertain and teach her son despite their confinement. She animated the things in the room and created characters, from Wardrobe, Sink, Bed, Rug and Meltedy Spoon. Their only window to the outside world is their television but to avoid confusion, “Ma” told Jack that what he sees in the television are just in TV.
“In the world I notice persons are nearly always stressed and have no time…I don’t know how persons with jobs do the jobs and all the living as well…I guess the time gets spread very thin like butter all over the world, the roads and houses and playgrounds and stores, so there’s only a little smear of time on each place, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit.”
― Emma Donoghue, Room
“Ma” follows a structured regimen for them. They play exercise routines everyday despite the small space they are in. “Ma” is never out of fairy tales and games to entertain his son. Horror happens when the abductor visits them every night for their supplies. Jack was made to stay and sleep in the wardrobe until Old Nick leaves. Some nights, Jack counts the number of times the bed her Ma and Old Nick’s bed creaks until “he makes that gaspy sound and stops” which lulls him to sleep. It’s really disturbing to know that the mother is being raped almost every night and her son is just a couple of meters away hearing the creaking of the bed without him knowing what’s happening. Until “Ma” realized that enough is enough and Jack deserves a better environment to grow up with that he’s been missing all along. Despite the differences as to how they view the room they are in, they decided to trust each other and they planned their great escape. The mother considers the room as a jail but Jack being not aware of what’s outside, considers it as a sanctuary. Their bond was tested but the mother’s way eventually succeeded. The moment between their escape to their eventual release is so thrilling.
“Everybody’s damaged by something.”
― Emma Donoghue, Room
The book then follows Jack and her mother’s struggle coping outside, how the “unlying” process began. The two’s adjustment and the questions of their freedom did not become an easy thing. Jack was suddenly exposed in a different world that he once knew to only exist in their TV. He was suddenly given rules, like about property and personal boundaries, to follow that he never knew exists which became very hard for him to understand. He sometimes wished for them to be back to their “room” as he finds things too complicated at their new world. It became overwhelming to both of them and to the people around them where all needs to adjust to their sudden arrival. Then there came choices that needs to be managed that eventually became too much for them to bear.
One of the best things I adore about this book is its beautiful and effective use of words. The transition of Jack’s world was masterfully done. From the thrilling first part to the tear- jerking second part, the pace and the flow of the story became so smooth. It became easy to be connect with the story because of the simplicity of the words used.
“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.”
― Emma Donoghue, Room
The use of Jack as the narrator also worked well with highlighting the raw emotions in the book that eventually made the book even more engaging. It just took time for me to get used to it but once I got myself over it, the book became too immersing for me. The author made the readers view the world in the child’s eye making the progress of the story towards the plot more dramatic. I like how the story unfolds its secrets in the eyes of a naive boy. It was also thru his innocent eyes that we get to know the book’s other characters. In a book that discusses complex themes as kidnapping, abduction and rape, this book takes a new turn and decided to have the storytelling be handled by a five year old boy. Donoghue perfectly captured the innocence of a young child.
The book is a celebration of life, freedom, motherhood and unwavering parental love. It also offers an evocative insight about the complexity of the world we are in. How sometimes we put a lot of things in our plates that fail to notice simple things that we should be thankful for like our freedom.
4 stars out of 5.
The book was adapted into a film last 2015. It was directed by Lenny Abrahamson and screenplay by the author herself, Emma Donoghue. The film stars Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as Jack and her mother. The film received critical acclaims and was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture, winning Best Actress for Larson.
Have you read this book? What are your thoughts about it?
Author: Emma Donoghue
Part of a Series: No
Release Year: September 2010
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
No. of Pages: 321 pages
About the Author
Emma is the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue. She attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin, and in 1997 a PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of Cambridge. Since the age of 23, Donoghue has earned her living as a full-time writer. After years of commuting between England, Ireland, and Canada, in 1998 she settled in London, Ontario, where she lives with her partner and their son and daughter. (Photo and About the Author text courtesy of Goodreads)