I recently read Room by Emma Donoghue. I had read some pretty nice reviews of it, so had been wanting to get my hands on it for a while. I loved Room. It’s a beautiful novel which must be read in one go for maximum ‘effect’.
Jack, the narrator of the story, is a happy, loving, sometimes-tantrum-throwing, perfectly normal five year old who lives with his Ma in an eleven by eleven room. The circumstances of his life, though, are far from normal. He was fathered by his mother’s rapist-abductor, Old Nick, who has been holding her captive in this room since the past seven years. This room is all that Jack has ever seen of this world, but he doesn’t know what he is missing. This probably makes it a lot easier for him to be happy– and for Ma to remain sane. Ma is wise to have known this and to have told him that whatever he sees on TV is make-believe–not unlike Dora The Explorer which he is so fond of.
Apart from Ma, Jack shares Room with Bed, Chair, Table, TV, Fridge, Plant, Trashcan and so on. In the absence of the company of living beings, inanimate objects acquire a life of their own in the eyes of this five year old . Common nouns transform into proper nouns and are spelt with a capital letter–which is why the room is Room. Now anyone who has spent time with kids Jack’s age will know how attached they tend to be to whatever they think is theirs, so it is easy to relate to Jack’s almost-eerie fondness for the objects in the room, given the circumstances.
Old Nick is the only visitor Jack and Ma ever have. He visits often, mostly at night, to bring them provisions and to sleep with Ma. Ma keeps Jack safely out of sight–tucked into his blanket inside Wardrobe, actually– during the entire while Old Nick is in Room. Jack doesn’t know Old Nick is his father, but he does know that Old Nick is a bad man and that is why Ma keeps him hidden in his presence. Old Nick, thankfully, doesn’t seem to mind this at all.
Jack has a keen eye. He notices everything innocently. He notices that every time Old Nick goes to bed, he creaks it repeatedly. Jack even keeps count of the creaks while remaining hidden in the wardrobe. He doesn’t know what the creaks mean but the reader is only too aware of the horror of the situation.
Ma is raising her son to the best of her (extraordinary) ability. She has home-schooled him with great facility and imagination. She makes sure both of them eat well, of course within the constraints of availability. She makes sure both of them get some exercise daily (which consists mostly of running in circles around the room and variations of it). Like any conscientious mother, she tightly limits Jack’s TV time. Mother and son play a number of imaginative games. They sing and they dance together. They manage to pass their time well–at least well enough for Jack. Jack is a perfectly happy and content kid.
But Ma is only human. She can only do so much. There are days when she is assailed by debilitating depression and cannot bring herself to get up from bed or utter a word. On such occasions, when Ma is ‘Gone’, Jack is left pretty much to his own devices until Ma ‘returns’. His innocence and matter-of-fact handling of the situation is poignant.
Eventually the duo do manage to escape (after a series of events that stretch credulity) to the world outside, where an entirely new set of challenges face them, more so for Jack, who must come to terms with a whole new world full of real people, learn whole new sets of skills and most of all, learn to share his Ma with others.
Despite the sombre storyline, Room does not weigh you down. It sparkles with the freshness of a five-year-old’s perspective, startles you and humbles you. A lovely read.