Novel ‘Room’ haunts, inspires hope in readers

Colleen Kelly

Emma Donoghue’s novel “Room” sticks with you.

The story focuses on Jack, a 5-year-old who has never seen the outside world and is living in a 10-foot by 10-foot room with his mother, “Ma.” Unbeknownst to him, Ma was abducted several years prior by their captor “Old Nick,” and Jack is the product of the subsequent rape. Fearing for her son’s safety as Old Nick grows more unpredictable, Ma decides she and Jack must escape soon by any means.

This story is not for everyone. While “Room” strays from graphic details, the reader gleams more than enough disconcerting details reading between the lines. The story is told through the eyes of Jack, who is incredibly kind and clever beyond his years. One of the advantages to having him as our narrator was that his naivety to the situation kept the story from ever becoming completely bleak, as he always tried to see the best in people and had a warm sense of wonder for the world around him.

Although an effectively poignant narrative choice, Jack did grate on my nerves at times. As with any young child, Jack takes a lot of patience and sympathy to fully appreciate. Jack’s simplistic and naive narration takes some getting used to, what with his childish grammar and repetitive phrases. It’s easy to share in Ma’s frustration as Jack throws a tantrum and slows their progress or struggles to understand something basic about the outside world without having experienced it himself. He is a divisive narrator, but I enjoyed him for the most part.

Ma was such a strong character. Abducted as a freshman in college and held prisoner for seven years, her story is that of a survivor. She never failed to put Jack first and try to help him grow up as normal as humanly possible given the circumstances. We get glimpses into her state of mind and see her struggle to keep it together at times, emotionally checking out for days at time. Donoghue gave Ma layers, doing her justice as both a young mother and a rape survivor.

Needless to say, Old Nick made my blood run cold. What little we see of him shifted the mood from innocent and introspective to nightmarishly tense. He reads more like a ghost than a human, appearing briefly from time to time, but leaving a definite chill with Jack and Ma.

What people need to understand before going into this book is that despite its subject matter, “Room” is a story about a family’s love and support, the road to recovery and most of all hope. You will smile, you may even laugh at times while reading this, but you will also have your heart broken more than once. While Jack’s simplistic narration was frustrating at times and took away from some scenes where Ma should have been the main focus, he is still very likable. Ma’s trauma and subsequent recovery are a hard yet important pill to swallow.

Verdict: 4/5 stars