Room (novel) – Leaves a Lump in your Throat
Shortlisted for 2010 Man Booker Prize, Irish writer Emma Donoghue’s “Room” is about a five year old boy’s small closed world. Every unimaginable horror in this world is inflicted by human beings, one way or other. “Room” ponders over one such gruesome incident. A Californian named Jaycee Lee Dugard lived as a captive for 18 years. In that period, she bore her kidnapper two children. Josef Fritzl, an Austrian, was imprisoned for keeping his daughter in a cellar for years and had children with her. This breakout novel is inspired by all these cases, but this is not a bleak one, which is all about the sinister world of a serial rapist. “Room” is an emotionally draining novel. And, since the novel’s narrator is a plucky five-year old boy, it easily entraps a reader.
Jack is now five years old. He is celebrating his birthday in his ‘room’ with his ‘Ma.’ At this age he slowly understands the truth about his garden-shed home. Jack’s ma keeps him busy throughout the day. He does routine exercises in the ‘Track’ He counts his cornflakes, talks to bed, wall and other things that are visible to his naked eye. He likes Dora. He has five books. “Room” is his world and every other thing that is shown in TV is from another planet. Jack and Ma are visited by the tyrannical ‘Old Nick.’ He brings them food and things for ‘Sunday treat.’ In the night, Jack sleeps in the wardrobe and counts the creaks ‘Old Nick’ makes on the bed with his ma.
This 12-by-12 room is where the young woman has spent her life for the last seven years. She was abducted at the age of 19 and was repeatedly raped by the brute — Jack calls ‘Old Nick.’ She has devoted every piece of energy in the last five years to teach and nurture her five year old boy. The book starts slowly by introducing us, the world of Jack. Jack provides all the agonizing details, even though for him it’s all normal. When ‘ma’ tells Jack about the real world outside, he couldn’t really believe it. ‘Old Nick’ has built the room in his garden-shed with the use of state-of-art security technologies. She has made many attempts to escape all ending up in vain and pain. When ma tells Jack about the escape plan, he initially hates her. He later relents and promises to follow her instructions.
The entire first-half of the novel is set inside the ‘room.’ The author puts us slowly into Jack’s private world. So, when the escape plan sets in, we crave for these souls to escape. The second-half is set in ‘outside’ where they struggle with the glare of ordinary reality. Donoghue narrative voice of a five year old is perfect. Although, the novel is narrated by a small boy, she hasn’t been so unrefined to make light of their situation. The entire grotesques are also finely balanced by many uplifting moments. A reader will definitely hurry through the novel, partly because Jack is a masterful creation. His is a character which knows more than he understands. This irony gets to a whole new level when the tale progresses to the other section, which is about life after abduction. So, this is not just a survival story with a ‘happily ever after’ ending.
“Room” would have been just another pulpy thriller, if it had dealt with the escape. Donoghue has the guts to get to another level and makes a subtle social commentary. As a reader, in the ‘Outside’, we come across both the ‘dedicated professionals’ as well as the media manipulation, which paints Jack as a ‘feral.’ The characterizations of Jack’s grandparents, Uncle, doctor are all excellent. Jack’s reaction, on seeing all these new peoples are both hilarious and heart-breaking. The part, where Jack makes the trip to shopping mall with uncle and his family is so endearing. By using Jack’ innocence, Donoghue brings home many of the hard truths that we adults gloss over.
The theme “Room” deals with is timeless and it will resonate with anyone. This audacious novel is not just a story about a victim or survivor. It provides mesmerizing insight about the child development. Eventually, it is a beautiful poem, in praise of the exceptional motherly love.