Emma Donoghue’s novel “Room” has gained popularity this past year after the release of the film adaptation in November. The novel is chilling, haunting, and will draw you in and capture your complete attention from the very first page. As a psychological look into trauma, family, and adapting to a new world, the novel is fast paced and distinctly unique.
The novel is told from the point of view of a five-year-old boy, Jack, who is held captive in a small room with his mother, who he affectionately calls “Ma.” The room is cramped, filled with a tiny kitchen, a bathtub, a bed, and a television. The four walls of this tiny space are the only home he has ever known. Jack was born in the room and has spent the past five years living alongside his mother in this enclosed space. Captured by a predator years ago, his mother has done her best to provide a happy life for Jack. Despite her own psychological traumas and challenges, she limits Jack’s TV time and helps him stay healthy and happy with physical and mental exercises. Jack has never known a life outside the one he lives now. The only other person Jack has ever seen is Old Nick, the man who visits the room at night while he sleeps in a wardrobe.
Jack’s five-year-old mind cannot understand the reality of the situation, but the reader learns from his observations that Old Nick kidnapped Ma when she was 19, and she has been the victim of rape and abuse for years. Soon, Ma comes up with a plan to free the two from their imprisonment. The novel follows their escape and their attempts at adapting to the outside world following their freedom. The novel provides an interesting perspective, as Jack’s five-year-old voice is honest and naïve. His mind cannot process the horrors and realities of their situation, nor can he believe that humans are capable of such malevolence.
Though disturbing, the novel will surprise you with its accounts of true humanity and its glimpse into the mind of a young boy. With her fast-paced plot and convincing narrative voice, Donoghue produces a story that is truly unforgettable. The restrictive nature of the novel is part of what makes it so engrossing. Jack’s narration is limited; he cannot process the reality of his situation and has only ever known this one room. The physical limitations restrict his ability to understand the realities of living. “This is a truly memorable novel, one that can be read through myriad lenses — psychological, sociological, political. It presents an utterly unique way to talk about love, all the while giving us a fresh, expansive eye on the world in which we live,” states Aimee Bender in her New York Times book review.
The novel goes beyond simply detailing the horrors of captivity. It provides a unique glimpse into the bond between mother and son, the acceptance of things you can’t change, and the struggles of adapting to change.