‘Jack is five.
He lives in a single, locked room with his Ma.’
Every once in a while you come across a book that profoundly affects the way view certain issues in the world. Having never really considered what children growing up in privation go through and how that affects their social abilities, ‘Room’ opened my eyes to a very unique perspective of this heartbreaking issue.
For me, the novels greatest strength is it’s ability to ask questions about the ethical connotations of this awful situation it’s characters Jack and Ma find themselves in. Is Ma right to tell Jack nothing of the outside world? To use him to escape in a way that is clearly so terrifying for him? And as a reader, do we condemn or understand Ma’s attempted suicide and the subsequent effect it has on Jack, leaving him to struggle through his first forays into the real world with people he’d only know for a few weeks. All of these, and more, provide interesting topics to consider when reading the book and allow the reader strong opportunities to fully engage with the novel and start a conversation.
Personally, I’d never considered the way a child who had spent his whole life in an enclosed space, knowing next to nothing about the outside world, would react to being released and the possible medical and mental side effects that could occur. Donoghue leads us through all these dangers perfectly with Jack, and gives us the unusual opportunity of seeing the world through fresh eyes, with all its dangers and wonders.
The characters of Jack and Ma are vivid lifelike in a way that is so singular and expressive. Through Jack we not only understand exactly how he feels and the way in which he thinks but also come to understand Ma and her complex internal struggles. As you read the novel, you feel everything with them. The fear that grips Jack during his escape, his desperate need to be with Ma and her need to be free are just some of the emotions that drive you through the book and make it feel as though you are living in Jacks head, seeing what he sees and feeling as he feels.
Although this book does handle some really complex issues, it is easy and enjoyable to read and, despite the dark moments, is doesn’t feel like a scary or sad book. Rather than being the story of Ma and Jacks imprisonment, ‘Room’ becomes the story of their survival, their love and their undeniable strength of character. Ma’s love for Jack is evident in every page and his love for her not only carries us through the story but saves them both. If you were to think of this book as just a story about the worst time in Ma’s life then you would be wasting an opportunity to see it as the celebration of life, love and strength that I believe it to be. Yes, it is a story in which terrible things happen to an innocent girl, filled with her fear and the fear of her child. But, it is also a story filled with her bravery, her hope and her fierce protection of her son.
Even when the journalist in the novel asks whether Ma ever thought of giving Jack up so he could live a normal life and be free you never entertain it for a second. In theory, that might have worked but anyone who reads the novel comes away knowing that Ma and Jack need each other and without Jack, Ma would not have survived and without Ma, Jack wouldn’t be Jack.
This novel is a heart wrenching read but is thoroughly worth reading, every page celebrates the bravery of the human spirit against deprivation and adversity. Although it does function as a cautionary tale against predators like ‘Old Nick’, I think it would be a shame to view it as that and so doing ignore the love and bravery of Jack and his Ma at the heart of the story. I would recommend this to absolutely everyone.
Absolutely loved it, 5 stars.