Emma Donoghue’s Room, which was recently published by Little Brown, is the story of five-year old Jack and the unusual and often terrifying circumstance which he lives in. You see, Jack has spent the first five years of his life in a small steel room inside a gardening shed in a backyard. He has never encountered the reality outside the room. In fact, his reality solely consists of his mother and the room itself. To him, room is the world, and this has provided him with much comfort and warmth, it gave him the familiarity that each individual needs in order to be content with their existence. Unbeknownst to him, his mother thinks differently. To her, the room is a prison. It is what keeps her from her own familiar reality. At nineteen years old, she was kidnapped by a crazed man only to be locked away in room as a sex slave. In a year, she got pregnant and lost the child at birth in the same room after experiencing a few complications. After another year, she became pregnant once more. This time she brought the infant, Jack, out of her womb properly and successfully. Since then, she’s nurtured the boy, using whatever supplies she received from her captor, teaching him how to live a normal life in their most extraordinary and horrible circumstance. After five years, they finally escape, and the readers are shown how they react to a world Jack is completely unaware of a complex world where all his perceptions are shattered and altered, and to a reality his mother is trying to ease back into.
The novel was a quick-read. I went through the first fifty pages in a single hour, over a cup of coffee, and the other two-hundred fifty nine pages was accomplished in a six-hour long read, in my bed, on a cold Sunday afternoon. This, of course, is a testament to how interesting the narrative is. The incredibly dark undertones of the novel, the chilling and cold nature of their entrapment, shown subtly and carefully through short anecdotes and through the object that surrounds the character, is enough to pull the reader into the beauty of the text. And the manner it was narrated was extremely amusing. It is told from the perspective of Jack, a child-narrator, and Donoghue is quite efficient and effective in rendering how a child makes sense of the world around him, how he utilizes language and memory, and how he tries to understand the newness of objects and situations he comes into contact with using what little he knows. Through this, we are also given a chance to go through Jack’s process of self-discovery, which is an achievement of the novel.
But even with all of that, I found some things in the novel which bothered me. For some odd reason, I found no sympathy at all for Jack. A lot of the times, I found him irritating. When he gets mad at his mother irrationally, I get infuriated. When he whines too much, I get pissed. When he thinks everything has to go his way, it annoyed. And although I understood that this is how children acted, and his attitude was fashioned for the sake of accuracy, precision and verisimilitude, I still felt negatively about the character. At first I thought I was just being a cold-hearted bastard, but eventually, I have come to realize that this is due to the fact that the telling of the story was rushed. The narrative wasn’t paced appropriately to explore the character of Jack, to make the readers aware of his motivations and the way he thinks, like what Foer did in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, like what Grass did in The Tin Drum and like what Salinger did in The Catcher in the Rye. If it was done slowly, maybe I could have understood the character better, and maybe I could have empathized with his plight and his pains. Because of this problem, Room is a novel that falls short of being a great novel.