ROOM by Emma Donoghue

Booker Shortlist 2010

Donoghue herself admits the inspiration for Room came largely from Joseph Fritzel’s imprisonment of his daughter Elisabeth.  On this fact alone, one could make a series of assumptions, likely including the words ‘gratuitous’ and ‘grim’ in our expectation of the story.  Yet Donoghue somehow manages to avoid gratuitous sexual content and the book could not be described as ‘grim’ despite the boy Jack and his mother, Ma, existing in an extremely depressive environment.  A place where Old Nick (Fritzel’s equivalent) makes nightly visits to rape Jack’s mother in their twelve-foot square room, while her child hides in the wardrobe.

Somehow, Donoghue manages to keep this vile and hopeless existence in the background and instead, focuses on the wonderfully close relationship between mother and son.  The story is narrated by five-year-old Jack and his is a distinctive and unusual voice for the reader initially, taking a little while to get used to but totally convincing and poignant once a few pages have been turned.

The second half of the book moves to ‘Outside’ and Donoghue skilfully moves the story on, showing the reader through the characters, an alternative view of ‘our’ world and our concept of normality.

For me, Room was a book that I did not want to finish.  This was in part, due to the wonderful bond between Jack and Ma.   In addition, it was because Donoghue forced me to examine, through Jack’s eyes, the madness of this ‘normal’ world we inhabit.  Room reminds us what is important in life and its characters stay in one’s head for long after the final page is turned.

Highly recommended!