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[333] Room: A Novel – Emma Donoghue

” Room is real for real, but maybe Outside is too only it’s got a cloak of invisibility on like Prince Jacker Jack in the story? ” [63]

For the entire five years of his life Jack has never left the 11-by-11 foot room where lives with his mother. Room constitutes Jack’s entire world, to the extent that anything that exists outside of the confine of the windowless Room simply isn’t real. Like TV. Donoghue fills us on Jack’s world in his words, but limited perspective: We know what Jack knows, and most of the time, we learn more than he can yet grasp. What drives the book is the gap between Jack’s understanding and the reader’s.

Between the new-minted language and odd syntax that befit a child, it’s revealed that Room is actually a cork-lined dungeon in which Jack and his mother are held captive. They are at the mercy of one Old Nick who holds a key of the shed and rations their provisions. To Jack Room is a haven because his mother has created a sanctuary in which she nourishes him. To his mother it’s a jail, for she is kept there against her will for seven years.

Jack’s mother is without a sympathetic figure. Aware that her son is growing up and claustrophobia slowly sets in, she contemplates an escape. Concomitant to their liberty (my apology for the spoiler) are issues concerning Jack’s cognitive distortions, and most importantly, establishing the separation from his mother that must take place in order for the boy to develop into his own person. Up to this point the child doesn’t comprehend the startling fact that he’s not the only other person who exists.

The one flaw that offsets the unique premise and creativity of the book is the lack of depth in which Donoghue would explore the gamut of emotions that should befall anyone who has been held in captivity for years. Consider the details (at times contrived) she goes into the regimened life in the Room, the post-liberation life is drawing a blank, which is a grave oversight. There exists an unforgivable disconnection between the intense trauma during captivity and the casual voice with which the novel is told.

321 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]
Room is shortlisted for Independent Literary Award: Literary Fiction.