Room by Emma Donoghue

Monday, March 14, 2011

I have been meaning to write this review for a week but it has been one of those books that has been difficult to sum up so I've taken my time pondering what to write.

The fierce novel is primarily a memoir of a five year old, the language is simple and the nouns are delivered with childlike pride as Jack, the protagonist meticulously names, records and personifies all the objects which he encounters. Beginning with a warm description of his fifth birthday, Jack slowly but surely unveils the true nature of his little world - a four walled cell which he calls Home but in which his mother, Ma, has been a prisoner of for seven years, and which he was born into - never having once stepped into Outside.

Old Nick is the captor who snatched Ma from her college campus, leaving her parents to believe she is dead. Jack describes how Door 'beep beeps at nine when I'm supposed to be switched off ' an innocent observation which adds a horrifying dimension to this sensational tale. I cannot describe the terror I felt when I was reading about Old Nick, Emma Donoghue created such a demoniacal character that you felt a surge of dread reading  the 'beep beep' of Door and knowing who was about to step onto the page.

Emma Donoghue has previously defended her novel to interviewers, explaining 'to say Room is based on the Josef Fritzl case is too strong' however as the reader it is hard not to see the similarities between Ma's ordeal and the imprisonment imposed upon Fritzl's captives. Although Donoghue did of course spend alot of time researching the impact of child-rearing in captivity and the Fritzl case obviously lended some of its horrific details to the novel, the author also claims she spent time talking to her own friends and researching their own individual methods of bringing up children, which she then implanted in Ma's mentality.

What I found most endearing about this compelling narrative was the relationship between Ma and Jack and how Ma fought her inner demons in order to protect Jack's vulnerable naivety. Often having days where she is Gone, Jack witnesses his mother's depression first hand, yet she always has the strength to carry on the next day and bring herself back from the dark abyss and into the arms of her loving son.

I found it fascinating how Jack develops a coherent vocabulary whilst living such a small life, and how, through his mother's determination, he becomes her hero running for his life and metaphorically tearing down the constrictive walls of Room.

Although at times this novel makes you shudder with revulsion, it also sheds a sensitive light upon the tender relationship between mother and child and how rearing a child in captivity can arguably be safer than releasing them into the big and sometimes scary Outside. Jack is obviously shocked when, after his fifth birthday he spots an airplane outside their skylight and questions whether the things on TV really are fantasy as Ma describes them. The realization of a greater world outside the walls of Room are almost too much for the brave five-year-old to conceive, yet it is his willingness to please his mother that enables him to place one foot in front of the other and boldly step into the brave new world he has so far been unaware of. Understandably Ma has invented a story for Jack so he is unaware of his imprisonment, not wanting him to realize he is trapped, she tells him that all the people on TV are not real, but fake people, and the only people in the world are Ma, Jack -  and Old Nick.

This is a story of triumph, good over evil and right over wrong. And it was so refreshing to hear such a dark and compelling story coming from a beautifully innocent five-year-old. Jack's strong and clear voice is definitely a deliberate watermark as Emma Donoghue once said, 'who can tell his tale better than five-year-old Jack himself?'

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