Room by Emma Donoghue, Review by Corinne Donnelly
Room by Emma Donoghue delivers an exceptionally unique view of the world as Jack, a young boy born and raised in captivity, narrates his daily life within the confines of a tiny 11-by-11 foot room. Simplistic in style, but incredibly deep in meaning, Jack’s story surprises in its honesty, imagination, and intense sense of optimism. Jack’s adoring relationship with Ma and his fascination with “Old Nick,” their nightly visitor, provides a fascinating insight into the mind of someone so innocent born into such an appalling situation.
The mother and son bond presented throughout the novel is incredibly moving. Jack’s admiration for Ma transcends the mere concept of familial love; she is also his best friend, teacher, and healer. Ma nourishes Jack’s imagination and curiosity, which notably adds more nuance to the narration, as he attempts to describe new objects and ideas in extreme detail. Jack also presents Ma as an incredibly resilient role model and while protective, one who never shies from letting Jack have fun.
Jack’s depiction of “Old Nick,” their mysterious night visitor, is one of the more disturbing aspects of the novel. To Jack, he is an enigma, but also a blessing, since he often brings gifts and treats. Most of the actions that Jack observes he cannot easily explain, as Ma continuously keeps him hidden away from Old Nick and forbids him from any modicum of interaction. While her reasoning remains obvious to the reader, Jack’s inquisitiveness and limited experience leads him into many dangerous situations that leave the reader with an intense sense of dread and sorrow.
While a decent portion of the action takes place in one room, a distinctive sense of plot and direction shines through. Just as Jack and Ma have discovered ways to keep themselves entertained, Donoghue finds ways to keep the reader invested in their journey. Similarly, the unsophisticated narration and the continuous timeline work extremely well together in creating a believable child narrator and in coercing the understandably haunted reader to see the world through his wonder and optimism.
Emma Donoghue’s Room examines a tough topic from a shockingly hopeful perspective. For such a short novel, she weaves together potent themes of motherhood, sacrifice, and isolation with incredible finesse. Jack’s story will make you laugh, cry, and rage within mere moments of each other, and while the novel is an emotional whirlwind, you will most definitely finish it as a more empathetic person.