A story is influenced dramatically by the voice in which it is told. “Room” is a story which could have been dark, depressing and salacious, but instead was written in a voice full of wonder – the voice of five year old Jack.
Jack is the child of a woman who is living a nightmare. Kidnapped at 19, Ma (as she is only ever referred to in the book) has been held in an eleven by eleven foot room for over five years. Jack is born in this place, and as a result knows nothing of the outside world. Jack believes that anything not found in Room (as he refers to the shed they are locked in) exists only on TV. Jack’s only view of Outside is through a skylight, and the day he sees an airplane flying overhead is a turning point in his young life.
As any child would, Jack makes the best of a situation he cannot comprehend is fundamentally bad. Without health care, enough food, or any fresh air or sunshine, Ma has struggled to make some sense of normalcy out of this unimaginable life. To Jack, life in Room is normal, and he cannot begin to imagine the torment his mother experiences when she comes to the realization that she must get Jack out before their captor Old Nick decides he cannot be bothered to provide the minimal amount of care required to keep them alive.
The eventual escape attempt, envisioned by Ma but executed by Jack, leaves the reader breathless with anticipation of disaster. The disaster comes, but not in the way expected, and the juxtaposition of the world outside Room with Jack’s view of his life with Ma inside causes the reader to look at our daily lives and all we take for granted with new eyes. While Ma cannot allow herself to feel any affection for what came before, Jack is quite naturally homesick for all he has ever known. Ma and Jack must both learn how to be in this world without negating their experiences in Room in order to move forward. Donoghue envisions Jack’s responses to the world so clearly that readers are able to feel both Ma’s aversion to Room and Jack’s love of Room simultaneously. The eventual reconciling of both those emotions is satisfying and realistic.
Suspenseful, detailed, and fascinating, this story is made so much more through the use of Jack’s voice as the first person perspective. By seeing this world through the eyes of a child, Donoghue removes the darkness from the story and helps us to immerse ourselves in a world where none of us would want to be, but a world that is nevertheless filled with love, laughter and joy.
Deana Cunningham is the Branch Manager at May Memorial Library. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.