Books Review January 2011
Room, by Emma Donahue
“PEOPLE are locked up in all sorts of ways,” Ma tells the unremitting prime time journalist. And metaphorically Ma is right but not everybody has been locked up, under duress, in a room for seven years.
Right off the bat, through the eyes and voice of a five-year-old boy named Jack, we feel something ominous. Everything about his described world seems contained and limited. We soon realize that Ma and Jack are confined to a room and have been since the day Jack was born. Unsettlingly, he has never known anything else. What happened to Ma is every parent’s most crippling fear. Kidnapped at nineteen, Ma is a prisoner of a sadist called Old Nick. As adults we understand why Jack is put in the wardrobe each night when Old Nick gets home, where he waits counting the creaking of the springs until Old Nick leaves and he can come out once more. Because rations are scarce, everything is repurposed; toilet paper rolls become building blocks, a balloon is blown only once a month, the rug becomes a flying carpet. Their limited book collection is recited by heart, and no food is wasted. Ma, to protect Jack, has never told him that there is an outside world – the light from the skylight is God’s shining face and the people on TV are only on TV. Ma pulls from every resource around her to educate and nourish her son in this most bizarre setting.
As a reader you can see that Ma’s survival instincts are locked on high alert, but for Jack, except for the rare days when Ma is “gone,” it is mostly fun and games. Emma Donahue took a chance using Jack’s five year old voice to tell this story. Little boy talk could be a disaster but instead the reader is drawn to Jack’s untainted imagination and later, upon his release, to his naive, confused, or maybe not, first impressions of the “outside” world. The idea behind this mesmerizing novel and the way in which it is narrated are both exceptional. Donahue, this year’s runner up for the Man Booker prize, trusts the reader’s maturity to carry little Jack’s story forward.
Very clever Room is about the strength of a mother’s love and the notion that such a strong mother-son bond can be built regardless of circumstance. Despite everything, Jack’s Ma made him feel safe inside the room. Jack never really fully understands that for his Ma the room represents the place where her nightmare began, because for him it is home. It is Ma’s courage and unflinching love that makes her hell his sanctuary. Needless to say, this is an exceptional story.
Definitely worth five teacups!
(Five is the top Teacup score)
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