If you're going to read one book this year, make it Emma Donoghue's Room. Unlike any novel you've ever read, Room is an enthralling experience, told from the perspective of five-year old Jack.
Slowly and deliberately, the reader is made aware of the nightmarish world in which Jack and his Ma live. Ma, snatched from the street at just nineteen years old, has been held captive in Room, for seven years.
The first half of the novel revolves around Jack's belief that Room is the entire world, the pieces of furniture and structure of Room itself, are characters to Jack, a well-spoken and observant five year old boy. But in between the lines of child-dialogue and vivid imagination are some of a parent’s darkest fears realised.
This book offers an incredibly insightful vision with a mastered point of view; never before has a modern literary classic captured the innocence, creativity and resilience of a child so well.
Questions of education, the continuation of childhood and the confronting symptoms of PTSD, are handled with great humility by the author, leaving the reader with deeply founded respect and empathy for the characters.
In their prison, Jack's mother, Ma, has created a routine for the two of them. The day is split up into a multitude of tasks and lessons including everything from breakfast and reading to physical education and screaming through the skylight for help.
All of these activities however, are told with the imagination and language of a five-year old who is unaware of the world as we know it.
I'd love to watch TV all the time, but it rots our brains. Before I came down from Heaven Ma left it on all day long and got turned into a zombie that's like a ghost but walks 'thump thump.' So now she always switches off after one show, then the cells multiply again in the day and we can watch another show after dinner and grow more brains in our sleep.”
The character Ma has made some notable choices in how she's raised Jack. He's been brought up to believe that the sound-proofed shed, the 'Room' he and Ma inhabit, is the only reality that exists. He believes for instance, that Ma is the only woman in the world, that he is the only 'Jack'...
This decision by Ma, however controversial, allows Jack to have a relatively normal childhood. It because of this decision that Jack is a happy, inquisitive child, like any other - he is kept ignorant of the horror in which he lives, for his own protection.
Donoghue also delicately explores the nature of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and how the characters cope once they're in the outside world (Jack for the first time in his life, and Ma, after having been held captive for seven years)...
Want to go to Bed."
"They'll find us somewhere to sleep in a little while."
"You mean in Room?" Ma's pulled back, she's staring in my eyes.
"Yeah. I've seen the world and I'm tired now.”
Not only has the author created such a compelling, thrilling story but these characters truly are one of a kind. In particular, Jack's observations about the outside world, are inspired:
Everywhere I'm looking at kids, adults mostly don't seem to like them, not even the parents do. They call the kids gorgeous and so cute, they make the kids do the thing all over again so they can take a photo, but they don't want to actually play with them, they'd rather drink coffee talking to other adults. Sometimes there's a small kid crying and the Ma of it doesn't even hear.”
In truth, we could talk about Room forever, that's how important this novel is. Emotionally-gripping, disturbed, with a glimmer of hope, Room will stay with you long after you put it back on your bookshelf.
You can check out our interview with author, Emma Donoghue here.