No Room for Improvement

On bookshelves in the United States on September 13.


Room, a novel by Emma Donoghue, was not what I expected when I picked it off the shelf. Upon reading the book jacket, I was intrigued, but hadn’t yet made the connection. Jack and Ma live in a room that measures 11 foot by 11 foot, and when Jack turns 5, Ma reveals that there is a world outside of Room. Told entirely in Jack’s voice, a horrific experience is given a completely different perspective.

Spoiler Alert – The first half of the story is told from inside the room. Ma has been locked inside for seven years since she was abducted at the age of 19, and because of advantages taken by her abductor, she consequently gives birth to Jack. While very hard to read at times, Donoghue uses language to create an entirely different world for Jack. He gives inanimate objects humanlike names, all capitalized: Wardrobe, Mirror, Rug, Plant, etc. To Jack, there is no outside, just outer space somewhere beyond the skylight. Most importantly, through Jack, the reader learns just how much the mother-child love inspires Ma to protect, teach, and cherish Jack.

The second half of the book is told Outside, where Jack is trying to understand his new surroundings. Though he has a fantastic mind when it comes to reading, writing, and math, he lacks social graces and is otherwise highly immature in comparison to his age level. It is through this half of the novel that we see how they try to adapt and struggle with a completely new set of difficulties.

Donoghue uses a balanced mix of haunting and uplifting storytelling. This book was not depressing for me to read, but at times it could be heartbreaking. Ultimately, I recommend it because through all the adversity, a strong theme of motherly love, protection, and courage shines through. I read this novel in just two days, but thought about it long after. So, though I was surprised that it was not what I had anticipated upon picking it up, I’m glad I did.

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