Room is the story of five year old Jack, by turns a precocious and incredibly innocent child, and his mother who have lived in one single room for all of Jack's five years. It is just the two of them with only occasional nightmarish visits from Old Nick, their jailer, a man from whom Jack's Ma makes him hide. Jack and Ma have very little, locked up as they are in this tiny room, but their relationship with each other is so touching and incredibly important. Ma teaches Jack, she protects him, she encourages him to be as active as a boy can be in such a confined space, and she loves him desperately, giving him the very best upbringing she can under the circumstances.
Jack narrates the novel and it takes a little getting used to his voice but he turns out to be the perfect choice to tell his and Ma's story. Unlike Ma, he has no knowledge of a world outside Room (he even believes that what he sees on tv is all imaginary), he has no understanding of the terrible existence that he and Ma live, and even Ma's fear of Old Nick is much muted in this naturally inquisitive and intelligent child. Since the outside world doesn't exist for him, he doesn't feel the desperation and ache to escape that Ma feels although being an empathetic child, he can feel her urgent desire. By choosing to use Jack as the novel's narrator, Donoghue also neatly sidesteps the need to detail the terrible sexual abuse that Ma suffers at the hands of her kidnapper although Jack's existence certainly hints at its continuing presence.
This is not so much a book about a kidnapping as much as it is about feelings and relationships though. Ma and Jack's relationship is touching and life-sustaining. But it's certainly not all positive. There's frustration and despair and tension in spades here too. The writing is constrained and tight, pulling the reader into the story gradually at first and then to the point that the pages start flying past. I literally read this in an afternoon. There's a wealth of topics to discuss in here; it's a great choice for book clubs. But it's also a great choice for readers who want a thrilling, moving, gripping read. And for those people who can stomach another such premise, read it in conjunction with John Fowles' The Collector for a fascinating compare and contrast.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.