By Emma Donoghue.
Published in 2010 Room became an international bestseller, was shortlisted for the Man-Booker prize and won a host of other awards together receiving a goodly number glowing reviews. On a personal note however, I do not set great store by prizes these days as there seem to be so many of them.
Room is at heart two short, connected stories in a single volume. The detail in each story is enough to have turned two short stories into two novels, Inside Room and Outside Room, had Donoghue been so inclined . Having said that it is really only the basic precept that makes this so and it is only by looking back after reading, that this becomes apparent. This might give the impression that there is a lot of ‘padding’ in the book that just to extend the story but this is not so.
Jack and Ma live in the eponymous Room, of the title. That room is their entire world and the only word that Jack has ever known since he was born; he has just turned five years old when we meet him for the first time. The only natural light they have in the room comes from a skylight, quite literally since all they can see through it, is sky. Donoghue almost manages to convey a sense, beyond the words in the book, of the claustrophobic conditions they must have endured in their prison. Indeed prisoners in regular jails would be treated better than Ma and Jack.
Having just turned five years old Jack starts to ask questions, like any child does as they grow, and is no longer satisfied with some of the answers Ma gives him. He begins to sense that there might be something his mother is not revealing to him in her answers. This then becomes the catalyst that forces Ma to take desperate measures for the sake of her son, putting him in danger in pursuit of both their freedom.
As the story unfolds we find out how the ‘heroes’ of the story come to be in the room and how they imbue it and some of its contents with human characteristics. To Jack it’s not the room but rather “Room”, used as its name, not just description.
Jack has been relatively protected, to the best of her ability, by Ma and brought up amazingly well given the environment, though I guess a professional might not say he thrived. Some elements of the story could have been quite harrowing but were handled well by the author with sensitive descriptions and without over sensationalising or glamourising those aspects.
I can’t say that this was a page turner for me, that I felt I just had to finish. Had I not been reading it to discuss at the book group, I might have put it to one side and moved on to something else. Don’t get me wrong, its not a poor story or badly written; it just was not the kind of story that attracts me.