Author: Emma Donohgue
Year Of Publication: 2010
Genre: Novel, Drama
Summary: I can count on one hand the number of novels that have brought me to tears. “Room” is now one of those novels.
Jack lives with Ma in Room. It’s a simple space where everything is a noun. Room’s bed is Bed; lamp is Lamp; tub is Tub. It’s like this because we’re inside Jack’s head, he’s our narrator. And when the novel begins, he’s just turned five.
His entire world is Room. A place, we soon learn, where (no spoilers) Ma is being held by her kidnapper. Ma has lived in this small, disgusting place for seven years. Old Nick, as he’s called, abducted her when she was just 19 and has continuously raped and demeaned her for all this time. Jack is a product of this rape.
Ma creates an illusion for Jack, teaching him that everything that is “real” is what exists in Room and that what he sees on TV is “not real.” We understand it as fantasy, but Jack doesn’t. His perspective is limited and thus enriching. We see the world through the eyes of someone who doesn’t even know what the world is. It can be frustrating and heart-achingly sad to see him work through new sensations and environments introduced throughout, though always exciting.
One gets the sense in reading this work, Donoghue’s seventh novel, that her background in non-fiction greatly influenced what “Room” became. The reader is confronted with the abnormalities in a child’s development that would be caused by this circumstance – Jack is still breastfed and there’s more than a few references made to his anatomical awareness.
In addition to the anticipated heaviness that the subject matter suggests, the novel is disarmingly clever and amusingly observant. Donoghue skewers modern societal norms with aplomb and has created a world so rich and specific in such a claustrophobic place.
What sets this book at an even higher level, though, is Jack’s narration. His thoughts are loopy and confused, but so rarely are they ever confusing. He gives us his world, according to him, and it makes sense. We recognize things he can’t, of course, and laugh. But he’s a long-haired ball of life who speaks and thinks in a way so particular and peculiar that I couldn’t get him out of my head, even after I put the book down. I was totally immersed.
TL;DR: Room is worth braving its heavy subject matter for the joie de vivre that lives underneath.
Verdict: Thus far, my favorite book I’ve read in 2016.