Room, written by Emma Donoghue, was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. It was long listed for the Orange Prize. It won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. So, basically, lots of hype. While I’m a bit slow to the show with this one (as it was a big deal four years ago), I got there in the end. A bittersweet story at best, a bone-chiller at worst, Room is definitely interesting.

Told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, Room takes place in a single room the size of a small shed, where Jack and his Ma live. Although they’re constrained by the four walls, Jack’s imagination and his mother’s love makes him believe that he has the best life going around.

Oh, that and he doesn’t actually think anything exists outside of his four walls. When Ma eventually tells Jack the truth – that she was kidnapped by a faceless man simply called ‘Old Nick’ and that the outside does exist – they make a break for it.

If the storyline of this sounds familiar, it is – Room was inspired (although, considering the circumstances I feel a bit dirty using that word) by the Josef Fritzl case in 2008; where Fritzl kidnapped and imprisoned his daughter for 24 years, as well as four of the seven children that he had with her due to repeat incestuous rape. Not a nice topic to choose, but one that definitely sparks the interests of many.

What is phenomenal about Room is how Donoghue chose to write it from the perspective of a child. Though the narration is a bit tricky to get used to at first, as Jack speaks in a childish tone, refers to objects almost as beings (Bed, Toilet, etc), and lacks the emotional depth of an adult, seeing it from his perspective allows Donoghue to tell the story in an unexpected way.

Though as the readers we understand almost immediately that something is very wrong, and while Donoghue/Jack make subtle references to the acts that ‘Old Nick’ inflicts upon his mother, it’s told in a way that we’re almost separate from the story, despite the fact that we’re seeing it through one of the main characters eyes.

For instance, if Room was told from the perspective of Ma, it would almost read as a horror movie: a young woman is kidnapped by a man, and repeatedly beaten and raped even after she gives birth to her son. Each day, she relives her horrific experiences, imagines what is occurring in the world outside without her, and deals with the repercussions of having her son with her in captivity. Though it would be gruesome reading, it would detract from the overall point of the story.

Donoghue’s ability to successfully write as a five year old – and one that is probably a bit mentally unwell – is pretty astounding, and to only slightly miss the mark would cause the entire novel to appear juvenile, fake and contrived. Yet because Donoghue succeeded in her task, we’re left with a novel that is both horrifying and strangely innocent – when Room finishes, although Jake may realise what he’s gone through, he’s still left with hope and love.

I can see why Room was nominated for so many awards, and not just because it fictionalised a case that was at the centre of everyone’s attention at the time. Sometimes heart-warming, often heart-breaking, Room is a great novel to read if you want to experience something a bit different from the usual choices.

 

Have you read Room or anything by Emma Donoghue? Let me know!

room by emma donoghue

Room – (image taken from http://www.wikimedia.org)

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