Room tells the story of Jack and his Ma. Told from Jack’s perspective, it opens on the morning of his fifth birthday. As expected, he is very excited as he spends the day celebrating with his Ma. They play all day in their room. They spend every day in their room. They never leave. They can’t.
The first half of the novel takes place in Room, a locked shed in Old Nick’s back garden. It is the only world that Jack has ever known and he is blissfully happy living there with his Ma. Ma, on the other hand, knows about the world outside and is desperate to leave their prison. Convincing Jack to leave is another matter.
The second half takes place Outside and deals with Ma trying to re-integrate into her family and society, and Jack trying to cope with being ripped from his beloved Room and overwhelmed with new experiences.
I found this to be a frustrating read at times. I liked that it was told from Jack’s perspective, but it was hard for him to comprehend some situations and I could really feel his mother’s frustration and not having him understand or empathise. His temper tantrums were uncomfortable reading as they seemed to come out of nowhere and I thought Ma was right when he said he never thought of anyone else. Then again, he’d never had anyone else to think of, and Donoghue did a brilliant job at showing him feeling uprooted and wanting to go “home”. Although it is primarily Jack’s story, I would have liked to have heard more about how Ma’s family dealt with the situation.
Not being a child development expert, I can’t really say whether the language used by Jack is appropriate for a child of his age, but his lack of grammar was sometimes annoying. There were also a couple of plot holes that drove me batty, but on the whole, I liked this book and couldn’t stop thinking about it. Coming on the back of the Fritzl, Kampusch and Dugard cases, Room can be a harrowing read, but it is also compelling and the love that Jack and Ma share is unique and heart warming. Read it in one sitting if you can.