Adapted into an award-winning film, the heart wrenching 2010 novel: Room is a story of unconditional love between a mother and son and the confusion of growing up. The twist? The majority of the book is set in just one room, with the story drawing inspiration from ancient folk motifs of walled-up virgins and the Fritzl family’s escape from captivity.
The story is told by five-year-old Jack, which took me some time to get used to as the sentence structure can often be oversimplified as he does not fully understand the world around him. Also, he gives all of the furniture proper names and sometimes genders such as ‘Floor’, ‘Bed’ and ‘Wardrobe’. Admittedly, I didn’t like Jack at first, but as the story progressed I felt attached and even slightly maternal for him. He describes everything with such innocence in such an imaginative way that I felt a yearning for him to get out of the awful situation.
The other main character is Ma who was abducted at the age of 19. Seven years on she still lives trapped in one small room with a TV, wardrobe, bath, small kitchen and a bed, and her five-year-old son Jack who has never seen outside of the four walls of the room. To avoid confusion, Ma tells Jack that only Room and the things inside it are real, and everything he sees on TV isn’t. However, shortly after Jack’s fifth birthday, Ma begins to find it harder and harder to keep up with the alternate reality she has created for them, and she has to begin to teach him about the outside world. The confinement creates confusion and forces you to ask questions about the world around you.
The first person of Jack’s narrative is powerful for creating a contrast between the adult and child world. I felt frustrated along with Ma that Jack doesn’t understand the constraints of Room, and then further sympathy for Jack when Ma is frustrated with him.
Although the story has horror-like themes, it tells a tale of the bond between mother and son. This story isn’t about abduction or child-abuse, it is about motherhood, childhood and fear.
Overall, Room is a difficult read but a book that you cannot put down until the end. It is full of emotion, grabbing the reader instantly as it drags them along through Ma and Jack’s traumatic experience. The first half can be slow to get into but the slow speed helps the reader to understand the restrained limitations of the room, and how uncomfortable Ma is, living in such a confined space with her son. The pace quickly picks up half way through, as Jack gets thrown into a world he no longer understands. It creates questions about imagination and the world around you.
About the author: Emma Donoghue
- Born in 1969.
- A Irish-Canadian playwright, literary historian, novelist and screenwriter.
- Her first novel was called Stir Fry, a coming of age novel about a young Irish woman discovering her sexuality.
- Room won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the Irish Book Award and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction.
- She wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of Room which she was nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe and Bafta Award.
- Find out more about Emma Donoghue on her website.