Published June 18th 2015 by Picador (first published September 13th 2010)
Author: Emma Donoghue
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Today I’m five.”
To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.
Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.
This book is one that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. A book that I’ve heard only brilliant things about. Then a friend told me that she’d read it and became completely engrossed, feeling compelled to keep reading on to find out what happened next. So after talking with her, I took it off my shelf and begun reading.
I knew the premise already: A boy and his mother are in a room, and the boy thinks that the room is the whole world, it’s all he’s ever known. That’s all I knew about it.
The book is narrated from the perspective of Jack, the five-year-old boy. He has a young child’s way of thinking and forming sentences, which is even more affected by his surroundings. All the items of furniture are treated as living objects with pronouns, other characters in Jack’s life. Bed, Wardrobe, Lamp, Table for example, are all capitalised and referred to as he or she. His mother is always called Ma. And there;s a thing called a Sundaytreat. That’s where Old Nick comes into it.
From the very second Old Nick entered Room, I was creeped out. My heart was racing and I felt physically scared. The things he said, his exact phrasing, it was incredibly believable and accurate (I imagine) of the kind of man he is. From then on, I half looked forward to when he would enter, but always with a slight nervousness to read his scenes.
“Woman aren’t real like Ma is, and girls and boys not either. Men aren’t real except Old Nick, and I’m not actually sure if he’s real for real.”
The thing about this novel is, when we read books we read to escape, to be transported, But in this one we have the opposite in a way, we start reading and we’re automatically inside Room with Ma and Jack. We can’t leave the room, because the story is told by Jack. I can’t imagine the story being told any other way, and it makes for some very moving moments, and profound phrases that just seem normal to Jack. We are trapped with them in this book, and that’s something I’ve not experienced before when reading.
Their routine and life becomes apparent quite early on. They watch TV, they do Track for exercise, they read books and eat cereal. Jack plays with toys. They make it work, Ma makes it work because it’s all she can do. We soon work out what Jack means by ‘having some’ in that Ma is still breastfeeding him at five. It might seem like too old an age for her to still be nursing him at, but this just strengthens the mother son bond between them, which is a key part of the book.
There are more harrowing activities such as Scream, when Ma goes to the skylight and screams, hoping someone outside will hear her. But of course, Jack doesn’t realise what is Outside. Other days, Ma is Gone. When she won’t get up out of bed, and this means Jack goes through his day alone. This is their existence, and we’re joining them in it.
“When I was a little kid I thought like a little kid, but now I’m five I know everything.”
I won’t go into the wider plot, because this is a book which is better read when you only know a little bit about it, and all that I’ve explored here is established quite early on. It’s a tender and unforgettable book. Jack is a character I’m glad to know. I can’t fault this book in any way, and it has got to be one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I’ll be telling everyone to read it.
Now I need to watch the film, because I think it’s going to be just as incredible.
Link to the book on Goodreads: Room