Stop for a moment and imagine the entire universe is eleven feet by eleven feet. You can stretch out your arms and touch one wall then walk fewer than ten steps and reach the other wall. You don’t realize that anything beyond your room exists. This is life for five-year-old Jack. He was born to a mother who was kidnapped at the age of nineteen and imprisoned in Room for seven years.
Room’s narrator is five-year-old Jack. At first I found this choice grating in a novel for adults, but it turned out to be an astonishing use of dramatic irony because we know that Jack is a victim of the kidnapper, Old Nick, but he has no idea. Jack knows that his Ma adores him and he is perfectly content with their routines. Every day they get up at the same time, eat at the same time, have Phys Ed and even wash their hair only on Saturday night. Ma has taught him to read, they make crafts out of the few scraps they have, and his math skills are amazing for a 5-year-old. As a reader it broke my heart to imagine that Jack had never touched grass or met another child but Jack has no concept of it. The horror that the reader feels at Jack’s situation is not shared by Jack.
The kidnapper Old Nick loses his job and Ma knows that their situation cannot continue. She knows that Room is in a suburban back yard. What if the house is foreclosed? What if Old Nick runs out of money for groceries? Ma fears that Old Nick will kill her and Jack, or let them starve, rather than be caught. She plans an escape that is so tense that some of my book club ladies said they had to walk away from the book and come back to it later. I was the opposite and the escape left me quivering, so I felt compelled to keep reading long after I should have turned out my light.
Do they escape? What happens next? Could it be that, even if we get what we fervently hope for, it may not turn out as we expect?
Emma Donoghue says in interviews that she didn’t base Room on any particular case, but that she was “triggered” by the “German Fritzl” case of a man who imprisoned his daughter for 24 years and had 7 children with her. Similar cases have occurred in the past and others came to light as she was writing the book such as the famous Jaycee Lee Dugard case, so probably somewhere, somehow, right now, someone is being held against his will by an evil person like Old Nick with a strange need for power over another person. We can only hope that this person has Ma’s strength, love, and will to carry on.
Room can be enjoyed by people who like true-life crime or mysteries, but its appeal goes further than that. Several women in my book club said they were reluctant to read Room, but they were glad they did. It is difficult to say I “enjoyed” a book with such a dark storyline, but ultimately Room is a book about love and life, rather than hate and imprisonment.
Check the WRL catalog for Room: A Novel