Written by Emma Donoghue
To Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he and Ma exist. Everything else is TV, not real. They eat breakfast at Table and he uses Meltedy Spoon to eat his cereals. At night, Ma sleeps on Bed while he sleeps in Wardrobe. And there’s also Old Nick.
The four walls of Room are all Jack has ever known. Everything in it like the furniture and utensils are all characters to Jack, satisfying his need to socialize with people other than his Ma. His only other friends are cartoon characters off the television like Dora and Spongebob. The gruesome reality is that Room is their eleven square foot prison, their captor the man Jack dubbed Old Nick.
“I didn’t even know the name for him till I saw a cartoon about a guy that comes in the night called Old Nick. I call the real one that because he comes in the night, but he doesn’t look like the TV guy with a beard and horns and stuff.”
Two major tensions set the tone for the novel: the physical constraints of the room and Jack’s limited point of view.
Given very little space and resources to work with, the challenge falls to Ma to provide Jack with as normal a life as possible. She cleverly disguises math and language exercises as games in which Jack eagerly participates. However, the tension is most felt when Ma has to caution Jack against wearing out their things and eating up food too fast. Everything is carefully and methodically rationed and Jack is none the wiser. Being so accustomed to the limited world they live in, he does not understand Ma’s frustration and exasperation. But, being a child, he brushes it off and carries on with his little games.
The unreliable child narrator is the saving grace of this potentially dark and sordid tale. Room deals with captivity, isolation and abuse but all told through the eyes of a five-year old child who does as any kid would: he sees only the wonder in the world around him. Jack’s accepting and positive attitude towards their situation is lovingly nurtured by Ma in an effort to give her son everything a child needs and deserves. The resulting story is quite cleverly and memorably told. Room is able to move beyond the atrocities, highlighting rather the strength of love and survival and the unsurpassable tenacity of a child.
Emma Donoghue, better known for her historical fictions, got inspiration for this novel straight from the headlines. The general premise of the plot was drawn from the real-life Fritzl case in 2008 where a father held his own daughter captive for 24 years. Donoghue, however, reveals in an interview with The Economist that she never intended to write a true crime novel.
“…from the start I saw this novel as having elements of fairy tale, horror, science fiction and those wonderful 18th-century novels with wide-eyed traveller narrators (Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe, Candide)”
With a story so thoughtfully and imaginatively crafted, it is no wonder that Room has seen critical acclaim receiving distinctions such as being shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize and receiving the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.