I almost don’t know where to start with this review. Normally I would give a summary of the plot… but that does the book so little justice, it captures so little of its brilliance, that I am reluctant to. “Ma” was kidnapped in her early 20s, incarcerated in a room, and raped repeatedly. At 22 she had a little boy, Jack, and ‘Room’ opens on his 5th birthday. “Room” is written in Jack’s voice, an altered English, which although slightly jarring at first, is done with the wit and insight of ‘Alex’ in “A Clockwork Orange” (incidentally one of my favourite books). And it has the same effect – to draw you utterly into a character totally alien to yourself, and to help you lose yourself in his world view and experiences. It is a popular question why, at the end of “A Clockwork Orange”, you feel such empathy with the rapist, remorseless murderer that is Alex. I think Alex himself answers this question when he says (paraphrased): you have been on this journey with me, every step of the way. The subtle changes in the language stop you seeing the world through Alex’s eyes through yours, and cut out the middle man such that you see them right through his. As with Jack – a boy who has had a life we can barely imagine, by using a very strong voice for him we leave behind our view, and take on his.
I lost myself in this book. I found tears streaming down my face, without even realising they had started. This book is absorbing, disorientating, and haunting. It is about ‘Ma’ and ‘Jack’s relationship, and how they have bonded and tried to sustain each other in the strangest of circumstances. It is about human relationships in general – about how we do the best for others, and about how our own private insecurities and needs can prevent that. It touches on the fine lines between love and obsession and the resentment that can come with the loss of freedom that is loving another.
It’s a quick read, and a really good one. It has been called a ‘brave’ novel; I am not sure about that. And I don’t know how original it is – the voice is not that different to the child in ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night’ and the story itself lifted (or ‘inspired by’ to quote Donaghue) the Fritzel case. But it is a beautiful novel, beautiful in the gentle treatment of human failings, in its empathy and in its love of those who are ‘different’.