This was emotionally taxing to read. It is brilliant in its conception and execution, but I had to take occasional reading breaks just to get my mind together because it was so claustrophobic to read. I will make this a short review because it’s too draining for me to think about it for very long.
When you read this novel, your mind can’t help but wonder over to the Fritzl case and the Jaycee Dugard case but Donoghue has not lifted any aspects of these cases. To say this is a re-telling of any actual media case would be offensive. This is a separate story in itself but could have come straight from any headline which is one of the reasons why it’s so gripping.
The entire book is written from Jack’s perspective, the little boy born into captivity and with no concept of the outside world. Writing books from children’s point of view is very tricky since you risk turning them into a purity symbol or creating unrealistically wise children. Or they could be too innocent and you miss a lot of the details. However, Jack isn’t treated as a symbol or a metaphor but rather to highlight Ma’s love for him and just what it’s like to be born in a room 11×11 foot long. He’s been characterized realistically as a five year old; he’s precocious but not overly pure, and there are moments of frustrating behaviour because he is still a child.
‘Room’ avoids all sensationalist aspects; there is absolutely nothing perverse about it. Donoghue could easily have made it morbid and every bit the horror story that it is, for example, with sick details of what Old Nick could have done to Ma but she avoids all that. Instead she focuses on the human aspect of the plot, that is, how Ma and Jack escape,
Fundamentally, this book manages to make a story about a horrific 7-year kidnapping and imprisonment into a story that focuses on the bond between a mother and her child, regardless of the circumstances. The love that Ma (we never learn her name) has for her son Jack drives her actions from the beginning to the very end.
It is a testament to Donoghue’s ability to emphathise with victims in this situation that she can structure a story like this and avoid it being a cheap tabloid read. It is so ambitious and so riveting, I highly recommend it to everyone.