Jack and Ma have spent the entirety of Jack’s life in Room. Jack has a good life with Ma. They play and read and exercise. It’s only when Old Nick comes to Room that Jack has to hide in Wardrobe. After Jack’s fifth birthday, Ma tells him that there is an entire world outside of Room and that they should escape Room to see it. But to escape Room and Old Nick, Ma needs Jack’s help.
With Room Emma Donoghue pulls off quite a few things and she pulls them off very well: she not only manages to tell a horrible story from the point of view of a five year old and never loses the horror of it, it’s also a realistic take on the returning to life after years of captivity.
It’s not an easy thing to tell a story from the point of view of a child and not have said child become precocious and simply a mini-adult. Donoghue manages quite well in that regard. I don’t know if Jack’s “special upbringing” was a help for that or made it harder. It certainly led to some interesting linguistic habits that nevertheless feel completely organic.
Donoghue writes in an afterword that she watched her own children quite closely to approach Jack as a character. She has also thought extensively about the developmental issues a child in his situation would experience – from not liking to wear shoes to never having developed the ability to see things at a distance. While the amount of details is almost creepy (and certainly must have been weird to research), it is an essential part of how she approaches the story.
That is not to say that the story with it’s quasi-scientific, rigorous background knowledge remains cerebral. Quite to the contrary. I was perfectly able to empathize with both Jack and Ma, had goosebumps and even had tears in my eyes more than once. It’s a tense situation with extremely likeable, realistic and very human characters – and I really wanted them to get through it all with the least amount of damage possible. If Donoghue ever decided to write a sequel, I would read it immediately.
Summarizing: as weird as it is to say this about a book that is about such a harrowing topic: Room is pretty wonderful.