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Book Review: Room

RoomRoom by Emma Donoghue

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In learning that Emma Donoghue had be shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize, I had a feeling her book might be a difficult one to read, one that you have to work at in order to get through it. I was completely wrong.

The story is grim, desperate, yet it is a testament to the love that exists between a mother and child and how freedom as a concept and freedom as a reality are two very different things. The story is told entirely from the point of view of Jack, a five-year-old, who was born in “Room,” the space where his mother has been held captive for the past seven years. What he knows as real is what is in Room. Everything else is in Outer Space or in TV. When Jack’s safety is threatened by his mother’s captor, “Ma” conceives a plan for them to escape that hinges on the courage of her young son.

It is a testament to Donoghue’s deft and clever writing that she is able to address complex concept in Jack’s entirely believable voice. She does that by using a child’s ability to ape without understanding, but also by using a child’s often much clearer understanding of the world, because it is so much simpler for them.

Once started, it is impossible to put down Room. Jack’s escape scene is particularly harrowing and emotionally difficult to read, but the “side effects” of freedom are equally fascinating and startling.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, ROOM is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

All in all, Room deserved to be nominated. Highly recommended.

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