For five-year-old Jack, Room is all he’s ever known. The 11-by-11 soundproof room that he and his Ma live in is where he was born and where they do all their playing. To Jack, it’s home, but to Ma, it’s the prison where she’s been held by her captor Old Nick for the last seven years. As Jack becomes more inquisitive about the outside world, Ma becomes more desperate to break free of their prison.
What is remarkable about Donoghue’s novel is that she explores the different kinds of restraints present in Jack’s situation: the limited point of view that he possesses, and the physical limitations that he and Ma face in their tiny room, which is both a prison and Jack’s whole world. As the reader, we can only see what Jack sees, and we only know what he knows. Because of this unique approach, the dramatic tension is immediate, and the pace, which could be slow, isn’t simply because Donoghue creates rising action that sucks the reader in and doesn’t let them go.
Jack’s voice is what sets this story apart from others in a similar vein: Donoghue manages to keep Jack’s voice authentic but not precocious. This is an essential skill if one is writing a book that is told entirely from the perspective of a five-year-old, because many readers would not be able to maintain an interest in the story if the narrator was too grating or unrealistically mature. Indeed, some readers still took issue with Jack’s voice and laid criticism on his naming of objects with capital letters, making them proper nouns. Bed, Wardrobe, Toilet, and Rug were all objects in Room, and while some readers found this irksome (as they also found some of his syntactic tendencies), it makes sense that he would see these things as living beings in a way, because they are all he knows in his world with his Ma.
It is impossible to review this book without revealing some mild spoilers, so it is with that warning that I continue on. Once Jack enters the outside world, there is a lot to take in, and the tone of the novel changes slightly. Seeing the familiar world through the eyes of someone completely new to it adds dimension and complexity. Donoghue navigates this extremely well, and it’s clear that she’s considered the consequences of Jack’s early life in Room thoroughly before placing him outside of it. The novel as a whole is an entirely engaging, thoroughly riveting read, and it comes highly recommended from this reader.
Room by Emma Donoghue. Little, Brown & Company, 2010. Borrowed Copy.