“When I was a little kid I thought like a little kid, but now I’m five I know everything” – Jack
Jack has lived in ‘Room’ for all of his five years. He has only existed between a space measuring 11’ x 11’. He has never seen the outside world apart from the brief glimpse offered by the skylight above him. He and his ma live a life of routine; food, games and play time, occasionally interspersed with a ‘gone’ day where mum zones out, despondent in bed, and the nights whereby Nick, the nightly visitor ‘bounces on the bed with mum’ (Jack counts the bounces from his hiding space in the cupboard).
‘Room’ is so uniquely intriguing because it is told from the perspective of five year old Jack, with his limited yet evocative grasp of the English language. He knows nothing of the world beyond his small room, where his mother has been held captive, kidnapped in her nineteenth year, for seven years. Jack’s innocence and acceptance of his plight contrast with his mother’s ability to raise him to be her saviour whilst tolerating the abuse of her abductor.
Donaghy has a very spellbinding ability to capture the language, thoughts, fears, concerns, interpretations and acceptances (as well as the curiosity) of a young child, capturing a very effervescent and gold hearted boy in the character of Jack whilst ma is courageous, a lioness with a game plan.
The language at times, as we learn of Jack and Ma’s fate, can be somewhat alienating. After all, we are used to reading books written from an adult perspective, for adults, but here we are reading young Jack’s interpretations of the world around him. Nonetheless, the simplicity but sheer imagination of the language doubled with the claustrophobic horror of their plight, make a very powerful contrast. If this merely written as an abduction tale, it would be powerful, but also sinister, creepy and eerie. Jack’s cheery innocence manages to make it something more than that – a human tale of survival in unusual odds. Jack’s naivety and simple understanding stop things from getting too dark and dingy.
The suffocation of the mediocrity, repetition and imprisonment of their day to day life’s is also intriguing as we share Jack’s joy of habitual, repetitious, consistent routines, and Ma’s façade, using their play both as a way to pass the day and to raise a possible hero.
Unfortunately, numerous media stories have revealed horrifying occurrences of real individuals locked in basements as powerless amusements for their tormentors. This lends ‘Room’ a powerful relevancy and currency, making it far too relatable, as we suffer Ma’s desperation and bravery, and Jack’s meek and mild comprehension of the situation he has been born into.
Recommended by Richard and Judy’s Book Club, Room is a pleasurable, but not escapist read about the powerful, unbreakable bond between mother and son, and the necessity for tenacity, formidable will and admirable courage that is essential for survival. At its core, it’s a story of love and the connection between a mother and her child and how that love can survive and rise above all evils.