Donoghue's "Room" is told for the viewpoint of 5-year-old Jack, whose entire life has been lived in one 12-by-12 room. For the spritely, inquisitive and highly-intelligent boy, the room is his world, his normal. He's a happy boy, though he's never set foot on grass or felt the wind lick at his hair. His only view of the outdoors is via a skylight far above his reach.
Jack's mother, whose name we never learn (she is known simply as "Ma") has been confined to Room - a garden shed modified into a fortress - for seven years. (SPOILER ALERT!) We learn a bit into the story that Ma was abducted while walking across in a parking lot at her college when she was just a carefree 19-year-old student by a man we're introduced to only as Old Nick.
Old Nick had a very thoroughly thought-out plan in place by the time he snatched this woman in broad daylight. In a shed in his private backyard, he made a prison. He made it soundproof and gave its own air conditioning unit, hidden by some shrubbery. Old Nick furnished the room with the basics: First and foremost a double bed for his nightly visits to his captive. Also, an electric stove, a toilet, a dresser, a rug, a TV and a wardrobe.
After a couple of years' worth of visits from Old Nick, and despite the use of birth control, Ma gets pregnant and ultimately gives birth to Jack ... bearing him by herself, right there on the rug. She keeps her boy out of Old Nick's, not wanting him to get any ideas. Old Nick doesn't really care to know the boy. He and furnishes the two of them with a meager amount of food and clothing and sometimes a treat, weekly.
What makes the story so compelling is Jack's viewpoint of the world (as I said before, he's a happy kid. His mom's his whole world and that's fine with him). If not for this perspective, I might not have been interested to read book about a mother and child held against their will. It's too ... possible, depressing and scary a thought: Such similar things have happened. There are such things as sex slaves (Case in point: Jaycee Dugard.) But to Jack, this itty-bitty closed-off life is normal, happy and sane.
Ma is 26 years old at the time of Jack's story. And to be sure, this is all Jack's story. Donoghue does a bang-up job telling the story from the point-of-view of an inquisitive little man. After a while, I'll admit, Prince JackerJack did get a bit whiny and annoying to me. But then, most 5-year-olds have the ability!
When Old Nick visits Room, which is locked down with a password-protected computer punch-pad, Ma insists that Jack take cover in Wardrobe (everything is a proper noun in Room). Jack can't see what's happening but he can hear; he times Old Nick's visits by the number of squeaks of the bedsprings. Old Nick is, no doubt, a twisted individual. He goes off to work in the daytime and visits his garden shed to rape Ma every other night. Jack overhears him say to Ma: "I don't think you appreciate how good you've got it here. . . . Plenty girls would thank their lucky stars for a setup like this."
I was a bit creeped out by the fact the Ma still breastfeeds Jack at age 5 (she never had a reason to stop, she says). It's made creepier still by Jack's descriptions of "having some." ("I love the left. It's so creamy.") But that is the way a child might describe it, I suppose. As Ma tells the news crew after she and Jack escape (Yes, they do get out) “In this whole story, that’s the shocking detail?” It seems the author anticipated this response.
Donoghue is certainly clever and keeps the story moving and changing throughout this fast-paced story. To be sure, this is not a boring tale. But I tired of Jack, as I said before, in the end. That feeling of annoyance kept me from loving this book.
Thanks to Sue Klaus, The Mercury's Sound-Off lady, from loaning me her copy of "Room" to read.
Click here to watch the book trailer.
Click here to see an iVillage interview with Emma Donague about "Room."
Check out the super-cool website for Room here.
About the author:
Emma Donoghue is a native of Dublin, Ireland, and currently resides in London, Ontario with her partner and their two children. According to Wikipedia, she is the youngest of eight children, and her father is the academic literary critic Denis Donoghue. She earned a bachelor of arts in English and French from University College Dublin and a PhD in English from the University of Cambridge. She is the author of several novels including "Stir Fry," "Hood," "Slammerkin," "Life Mask," "Landing," and "The Sealed Letter," as well as three short-story collections and four plays. Donaghue was nominated for the Man Booker Prize for "Room."