Room by Emma Donoghue

Room by Emma DonoghueRoom is a powerful story of overcoming some truly terrible things that has one flaw that almost undermines the entire premise of the book. Almost.

Room is a story, told from the point of view of a five year old boy, Jack. Jack has spent his entire life in an eleven by eleven foot room where he thinks that the only things that are real are the things in the room and everything else is make believe like on TV.

Jack was born in Room because his mother was kidnapped and locked up there seven years before the start of the story. Jack doesn’t know any other way of life. He personalizes objects and thinks that they are his friends. He sleeps in the wardrobe so his mother’s kidnapper won’t see him when he comes to visit and he spends his days thinking that Room floats in space, surrounded by nothing.

When they escape the story of their troubles just begins. Jack misses his old Room and all the ‘friends’ he had there. The world is bright and wide and scary and full of people that he doesn’t know and has never seen. His mother is emotionally damaged in other ways and has to deal with bouts of depression and self-worth.

Using Jack as the narrator is a useful conceit because it allows Miss Donoghue to tell the story in an oblique way. If the events of this story were told form the mother’s point of view the details would be too gruesome and repulsive, at least for me, to keep reading. Jack, however doesn’t understand a lot of things and doesn’t witness other things that the reader can easily discern, giving a filter layer that makes the story easier.

That brings up the question, though. Should this story be easier? Using Jack as a filter for events does not take away from the horror of their situation. Room still draws attention to the terrible things that exist in the world today and even points out that even though Jack and his mother escaped slavery, kidnapping and other bad things still happen in the world.

The strongest part of the story turns out to be the worst part of it as well. Jack is a wonderful character and a good narrator to filter events for the reader. He doesn’t sound like a five-year-old though.

I am rather intimately acquainted with a five-year-old and, granted he hasn’t been locked in a room for his entire life, he knows how to conjugate verbs. Jack sounds more like a child two years younger and many of those differences can’t be explained by his being raised in captivity. If I had read this book five years ago, before I knew what little kids are like, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the differences. Now I can’t help but be annoyed that Emma Dononghue so drastically misunderstands how smart a five-year-old can be.

However, the story is powerful and fascinating and the voice quickly becomes a background annoyance. This is a good book.


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