Imagine a room. Eleven feet by eleven. Bed. Bath. Wardrobe. Table. Chair. Rocker. Stove. Television. No windows. Only Skylight. Door is locked. Always. Imagine this is your home. The only home you’ve ever known.
Meet Jack. It’s his birthday. He’s five.
Jack lives in Room with Ma. Jack has never been Outside.
I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while now. I know when it was published there was a huge amount of buzz about it. And then the film adaptation came out, which I saw and thought was really good. But I never managed to get to the book until now, when my book club picked it as this month’s read.
It is a really interesting read. You’d think a story all about kidnapping and sexual slavery would be hugely depressing and harrowing, but by using Jack’s point of view Donoghue manages to make the story a more innocent one. The reader can see what is really going on, but Jack doesn’t know, so the reader is sheltered, in a way, from the true horrors of Ma’s experiences. If she had been our narrator this would have been such a tough book I don’t know if I would ever have read it. Jack has never known any world but Room, and he isn’t the focus of Old Nick’s violence, so while he does suffer it isn’t as visceral as it could have been. He creates a remove for the reader, which allows you to enjoy the book more. Or at least I think so.
That isn’t to say that this is an easy read, or that it glosses over the horror that is Ma’s kidnapping. It is just that Jack doesn’t understand and as the reader sees the world through his eyes it is a very different experience than it could have been.
[spoiler]And then there is the fact that half the story happens after they escape. Which I think helps the feeling that this is a story about Jack and his mother rather than the story of a kidnapping. A lesser book would also have focused more on Old Nick, it could have almost gloried in the rapes and the violence, the terror that Ma must have lived in. Instead the of the focus being on the physical acts, it concentrates on how those acts effect the characters. It never veers into exploiting the victims in an attempt to make the bad guy the baddie. It isn’t about that, it isn’t even about victims. It is about people living in terrible circumstances, and especially about one woman trying to protect her child from just how terrible his world is. [/spoiler]
It is really worth a read.