Room

by Emma Donoghue

Jack has lived in one room for all of his five years. A backyard shed, converted into a living space that measures 11’x11’ and receives natural light from a single overhead skylight, it is all he has ever known. Confined there with his mother, Room is his whole world. But now that he has turned five Ma is thinking of an escape plan. Is Jack really ready for “Outside” or would he rather stay in Room, the only thing that is real to him?

Told from Jack’s point of view, this is an extraordinary story of a child’s closed world and the incredible strength, endurance and patience of his mother. In captivity his whole life, with no exposure to anyone other than his mother and occasionally “Old Nick” Jack learns about the world from his mother and from watching television. But without the actual experience of it, it is almost impossible for Jack to comprehend that outside really exists and that there is something other than Room or TV.

Originally, I had to put this book down after reading for only a short time. I found it demanding and tiring. But when I came back to it, I finished it almost all in one go. Two things bothered me at first. I found the five-year-old voice and perspective jarring and somewhat contrived. As the book progressed and Jack’s personality and experience developed, his voice seemed more genuine and natural.

But the major stumbling block was the unrelenting experience of the mother. Imagine being a young mother, locked in one room with a young baby, then toddler, then precocious five-year-old. Day-in, day-out, you are with that child at all times, with no help or relief from one single person. You are the mother, the father, the grandparents, cousins, friends, day-care worker, babysitter, teacher. You feed him, change him, bathe him, talk to him, play with him, devise ways to keep him entertained and stimulated and for him to get some exercise, teach him to read, write and sing, answer all his questions. You cannot talk to anyone at any time about anything that might go wrong or that irritates you or worries you. In fact you cannot talk to a single person for seven years other than your captor once or twice a week, and your son. Your son becomes your world.

For Jack and his mother, their world is each other, but Ma knows they must break free if they are to survive. Eventually they manage to escape from Room and its physical confines, but escaping its psychological hold is not as easy. Now they must learn to adapt to a completely different life, filled with people and things and noise and busyness of all kinds. Jack misses Room, where it is quiet and safe and predictable, and where he has Ma all to himself.

Emma Donoghue does a remarkable job of creating their world and what it would feel like to live in it. It is an exceptional accomplishment, and there are many things to learn from this courageous little boy and his mother. An exacting but worthwhile read


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