It’s quite an ambitious project the one Emma Donoghue embarked with this book.
First person narrator is by default a tricky choice, as it lets the reader step into main character’s shoes, and see and feel what he feels.
When the main character is a 5 years old boy, it becomes even harder, not to say extremely challenging, for who’s reading.
Jack is 5 and lives with his mum in a 11×11 ft soundproof shed, “Room”, a nutter built in his backgarden shortly before he decided to kidnap Jack’s mum, then 19, and imprison her there.
Seven years have passed since that day and the young woman, who we know only as “Ma”, gave birth to the son of the man who abducted her and who Jack calls “Old Nick”.
Life in a 11x11ft shed can be funny and full of surprises despite its limitations, or so Jack thinks. He knows no other world apart from Room, he doesn’t know there’s more outside those walls, that what he sees on TV every day is real, that there are other people out there, a life which is completely different from the one he ever knew by living imprisoned in that garden shed.
One day Ma decides that it’s time for them to try and escape from Room. Old Nick has lost his job, the bank might take his house off him and he might have to have to get rid of both her and her son.
Ma plans Jack’s escape, he’ll have to play dead and let Old Nick carry him out of their prison. Their freedom will be in the hands of a 5 years old boy who has never seen the outside world before and who doesn’t know how to interact with it, he doesn’t even know the outside world even exists.
Despite all odds Jack brilliantly manages to bring the police to the garden shed his mum is still imprisoned in. They will be both brought to a special clinic where Ma will try to slowly reinsert into normal life and Jack will live his days in a constant state of awe and discovery with the help of his Ma’s mum and brother.
I’m sorry to say I hated this book. I believe this was one of those rare occasions I kept asking “when does it end??”. I could not stand the absolute lack of a real plot, at least a plot worth reading. The whole book could be summed up in a few lines, none of which including the psychological impact the situation had on Ma or her family.
Matter is: a 5 years old boy point of view can be extremely limited. We can’t get all that from the little of the world a kid has seen, let alone one who lived his whole short life in a garden shed. It’s surely amazing to see how Emma Donoghue managed to perfectly render the innocent, inexperienced point of view of a kid who never saw the outside world before.
But that’s where my awe stopped.
It took me a long time to finish this book and I really had to force myself to keep on reading. I am one of those people who rarely put aside a book she doesn’t like, but with ROOM I was tempted to do an exception many times.
When it seemed the story finally started to speed up a bit – that was, when the kid eventually manages to escape – in a few pages we went back again to the usual routine and slowness and boredom.
I understand the auhor wanted to show mum and son’s life exactly the way they perceived it living shut in a 11 x 11 feet room for years – boring, repetitive, sad, dull, depressing, etc. – and she certainly achieved that pretty well, HOWEVER from MY point of view as a reader this led to excessive repetitiveness and to too often silly descriptions due to the 5 years old boy point of view mentioned above.
A bit too much to carry on for the 300 pages of the book.
Basically, I had a feeling that, apart from the wonder and excitement of this kid, who was seeing the world for the first time and considering as magnificent or weird what we consider normal, there was little to nothing else valuable in the plot.
As I said, the point of view is limited and first person narrator means we have a subjective, single point of view of what happens. We don’t know, for example, how adults are coping, how Jack’s mum is doing or what she thinks and feels, having to face every single day the thought they are prisoners, cannot escape and she has a 5 years old boy to keep entertained without the toys and stuff normal kids have in the Outside. We can only guess from what Jack sees and the little he understands what must be going through her mind.
Pity I disliked this book this much, as the idea behind it isn’t bad. A third person narration surely would have helped to give the story that extra something which is instead clearly lacking of.