Room by Emma Donoghue – Book Review


Incredible book! A journey of a five-year-old and his mother from a small enclosed room to the outside world. From being captive to being free. And from being the only person in the world for each other to meeting a world of people outside.

The story begins on the 5th birthday of Jack, the boy who tells his story. His relationship with his mother whom he calls Ma and with whom he shares a small room, which is their entire world. There is a man who comes every night and brings food and other things for them. Only outside view is through a skylight on the roof. Now that he is five, Ma starts telling him about Outside world which is real. And they plan a rescue from the room. They do manage to rescue and then comes dealing with this big world outside. The plot is roughly inspired by a real-life Fritzl case where a father kept his daughter captive for 24 years. Of course, there can be an obvious storyline of horrors of being captive. And all kinds of impact it has those who are in captivity.

What the author has done beautifully is carve out a fairy tale out of this situation.

She tells you about the fun routine that the mother-son duo follows in their small enclosed world. The games they play, the exercises they do. The creativity that they explore with their meager resources. Songs they sing and how they fill their days. For the boy who is born in this Room, this is the only world he knows. And everything in the room is a character and not just a utility – be it Table, Chair, Bed, Plant. She skillfully uses counting to depict the passage of time. As well as a way of time pass for Jack and his Ma. She beautifully portrays their planning to escape from the room that the boy thinks is an adventure. The part of the story when they escape is heart rendering and thankfully she does not stretch it too much.

Every moment you feel something is going to go wrong. You worry about the little boy. And then when he finally makes it you want to make sure that he is protected.

Story after the rescue is delicately treated with the boy telling us about his first vision of the outside world. His finding out that the things he watched on TV are real. There are more books like this in the world, there are so many people and there is more food than he can eat. His adapting to this new big world, his adapting to spending some time without his mother. His discomfort with people looking at him, his establishing relationship with his extended family of grandparents, uncle, aunt, and cousin. And his accepting that they are now going to live in this world and not go back to the room.

The way author has interpreted the story makes you think how there are silver linings in every cloud, how life is what we choose it to be, how attitude is what matters, no matter what your situation in life is, how wonderful is a most beautiful element that a human being can have. Through the small boy, she also points out that the outside world that seems free is not really so, it comes with its own set of constraints – its rules, its conventions and even manners that you are expected to follow.

The language of the book, which is essentially the voice of a five-year-old, keeps the mood of the story very soft, nuanced with certain words that he uses in a certain way, his calculations in mind, his little learning steps, his use of counting as a tool. You only see and hear what the boy sees and tells to you, everything else is your imagination as you do live in the Outside world.

I loved the way the story was closed. It was not just a logical but a psychological and an emotional closure also. A journey completed.

Read Room by Emma Donoghue.

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Room by Emma Donoghue

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