To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough...not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.
*MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS*
Room is one of those novels that every one was talking about, when it was released last year. It seemed it was one of those "must reads" for those interested in contemporary literary fiction. Now that I have finally got around to reading it, I can understand why.
I have tried my best to talk about this novel without giving away too much of the plot, but found that is nearly impossible with this book. So if you don't want to find out too much about the story before you read it yourself, I suggest you stop reading my review now.
Room tells the story of five-year-old Jack and his mother, told from Jack's point of view. I found this difficult reading at first, for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, Jack is five. He talks like he is five. Sure his vocabulary is beyond his years but his maturity levels and the way he speaks do sound like a little kid. And a weird little kid at that. He calls all the furniture by name and refers to them as if they are his companions (Bed, Chair, Rug, Plant, Meltedy Spoon, Wardrobe). He also thinks that him and his Ma are the only "real" living people in the world, and that everything he sees on TV is fake.
But, what else can you expect from a kid who has spent his entire life locked away in one room, with only one other person for company. That is sure to screw anyone up. This understanding of the world is something his Ma encouraged to help him cope with his circumstances, because he is too little to understand anything else.
Ma does her best to make him as "normal" as she can. She spends her days teaching him to read, write, draw and do math. She makes him exercise as well as she can in their small, enclosed space and tries to feed him a balanced, healthy diet.
Ma really does do her best to give Jack all she can in this horrible situation. She keeps him safe from her captor, Old Nick, by hiding Jack in the wardrobe each night when Old Nick comes to Room to get what he keeps her there for... I am sure you know what I mean. UGH.
As Jack gets older, Ma realises that this sort of life isn't going to work for much longer, and she needs to get out. She needs to get Jack out before he gets any older. She wants to give Jack a proper life. But Old Nick, isn't going to let them go anywhere..... they must escape.
The first part of this novel, that dealt with their lives in Room was tedious and difficult to read. Every day was the same, there wasn't much for them to do and Jack raved on and on about his companions like Meltedy Spoon. Talk about dull. So dull that Donoghue did a perfect job of bringing the tedium and boredom of Room to life. I felt it.
Once Ma starts planning their escape, the novel picked up. It became scary! All I could think was that Jack was too young to take part in such a dangerous plan! He is a baby! and when it came to the day that they put their plans into action, MY GOD I WAS SCARED! I couldn't turn the pages quick enough.
The second part of this novel deals with Jack and Ma learning to live in the outside world. This was the best part of the novel and is what made it worth the read for me.
Donoghue did a perfect job of showing the difficulties Jack would have venturing out into the world. Having to meet people, walk on ground that isn't Room, come into contact with new foods, sounds, sights, sensations, and trying to understand what all these foreign objects are. Imagining being five and seeing stairs for the first time! It would be a scary experience to have to walk down them, when you have only ever walked on flat ground.
Donoghue also does a great job showing the media reaction to Ma and Jack (vultures!), and the different reactions family members have to the return of Ma who they thought was dead and not only that, for her parents to find they have a grandson fathered by her kidnapper! Donoghue shows all possible reactions in each member of Ma's family. From overwhelming joy yo have her back, no matter what.... to disgust at Jack, who is seen as the spawn of an evil that is hard to get past.
It follows Ma as she reenters the world and struggles with dealing with her family, Jack's problems and her desire to begin her life again.
The scariest thing about Room is that this novel is said inspired by the real life cases of Josef Fritzl and Natascha Kampusch. Two crimes that were prominent in the media in the years before this novel was published. Not only that, there have been countless other cases over the years where women have been kidnapped, or kept hidden away and enslaved by strangers and "loved ones" (I used that term loosely). So sure this may be a fictional novel, but the fact that this sort of thing does happen is really scary. In fact, I am sure it is probably more common that we think.
This isn't the first book of this sort I have read. The Collector by John Fowles is a based on the same sort of crime. Although, because Room takes this horrible and difficult situation, and shows it through the eyes of a confused five-year-old, that is what makes it unique.
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