I've seen many reviews of this book. Not only has it appeared in the fall book preview section of nearly every magazine I read, it has also been written up in the New York Times and The Washington Post, not to mention just about every other national paper. Donoghue herself has been interviewed all over the web, including here and here. Needless to say, the hype surrounding this book left me a little wary. Could it really live up to the expectations I had?
Yes, yes it could.
This is the story of "Ma" and her son, Jack. They are both being held hostage by their captor in a small room. In fact, Jack, who celebrates his 5th birthday in the beginning of the novel and whose voice is used to tell this story, was born there and considers it his home. With a small skylight as their only window to the area that Jack simply calls "Outside", they have created their own world inside "Room". Jack sleeps in "Wardrobe" at night, in case a man known only as Old Nick comes. His Ma goes to great pain to give Jack what she can given her circumstances, but little by little the reader is exposed to just how small their world really is. Without giving much away, their lives suddenly expand beyond the confines of "Room" and they are forced to leave familiarity behind and deal with "Outside" head on.
I admit it took me awhile (at least 40 pages) to adjust to reading a book that is narrated by a five year old who has only ever interacted with his mother in a tiny room. In fact, I nearly stopped reading. However, Jack's voice is this novel's genius. Even given that this sort of crime has appeared more and more in the news in recent years, I had never even considered many of the psychological and child development issues of people who have experienced what Jack and Ma have. The mental scars of their experience linger long after they have become physically free.
Audrey Niffeneger, the author of The Time Traveler's Wife, said, "Emma Donoghue's writing is superb alchemy, changing innocence to horror and horror into innocence. Room is a book to read in one sitting. When it's over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lingers for days." I couldn't agree more.