“In the world I notice persons are nearly always stressed and have no time… In Room, me and Ma had time for everything. I guess the time gets spread very thin like butter over all the world, the roads and houses and playgrounds and stores, so there’s only a little smear of time on each place, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit.”
Published in 2010 and written by Emma Donoghue, Room is told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy, Jack, who is being held captive in a small room along with his mother. Ma has created a whole universe in ‘Room’, where they have both lived for Jack’s whole life. But when Ma decides it’s time to escape, she risks everything to give Jack the chance to make a thrilling discovery: the outside world. Breaking free from their confinement, Jack experiences the outside for the first time, as the story provokes insight into the depths of imagination and the extent of a mother’s love.
The following post is a review of the book only. You can read my review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book here.
Told from the perspective of a five-year-old, this narrative style is a bold step from author Emma Donoghue, and it’s not always one that pays off. The last child narrated book that I read was John Boyne’s The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, and I couldn’t get into the story because of how repetitive it was. Having such a young mind defining the writing style can often mean that the language and sentence structure suffer, just like with the first half of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. This another one of my favourite novels, but it is one that is again difficult to get into because of how simple the language is written at the beginning, as Chbosky allows time for the language to improve as the narrating character grows.
But Donoghue captures what it is to be so young perfectly, and by mimicking the voice of a five-year-old so well, Room remains an incredibly well-written novel throughout. Jack knows nothing but the 11×11 square room that he has grown up in, which is hard enough to describe on the page as it is. But as Jack says hello to his friends – Rug, Plant, Wardrobe, Lamp – and struggles to come to terms with the thought of even one other person or a single blade of grass existing outside of the walls he is imprisoned in, we experience this traumatic experience through the eyes of an intelligent, cheerful, good-natured, and brave little boy.
The story is inspired by the infamous Fritzl case, from which Donoghue conceived the story for Room after hearing about five-year-old Felix. So the subject matter is quite hard-hitting, and if it were told through any other narrative, this would have been a completely different story. It’s because of Donoghue’s choice in narrative style and how well she writes from this perspective that makes this novel such a tender read. And, because of this, it’s not over-dramatised or made unbearing to read, despite how uncomfortable the scenes would have been if they were from an adult’s point of view, and instead is a surprisingly uplifting coming-of-age journey of a child experiencing a whole new world.
Because we experience it through Jack’s naive eyes, as well, the story even manages to be quite funny amid the shock and claustrophobia. Jack knows no different from the world his mother has created for him in Room, and the way his mind deals with his situation is immensely clever as well as bittersweet. Jack is such an empowering character for someone so young, and it’s hard not to feel a mother’s instinct come through as you read his personal and memorable story for yourself.
The story structure is fairly simple, separated into four sections as it slowly moves along, but it’s all about the inner struggles of Jack’s mind and how his relationship with his mother develops that keeps you gripped. It’s solely about these two people, and their characters are created with such tenuity that all you want is for everything to end well. Conflicts keep the story paced well, as Ma balances her proudness of her son with her impatience, but it all comes down to the divergence of a mother’s love.
The trailer for the film adaptation does ruin a lot of the story, so if you plan on reading this novel, then I suggest you do so without watching any of the promotional footage beforehand. If I hadn’t of seen the trailer before reading the novel myself, then I would have commented that the novel was suspenseful and gripping, because it’s difficult to imagine whether such a potentially heartbreaking story can end happily at all or not. It is, after all, a story about survival, courage, and about keeping up your strength when all else seems lost.
Room was adapted onto the big screen in 2015, which you can read my Book vs. Film Review for here, and watch the trailer for below: