“Room” Emma Donoghue

I should reiterate before I even start reviewing that I warned you when I finished A Fine Balance that I would probably be ruined for other books for some time.

With that in mind, I had every intention of reading something light, something I didn’t have high expectations of, so that I would be back on a level playing field before starting any more quality books. But instead my untrustworthy hands picked up Room. 

Room is the story of Jack. It opens on his fifth birthday, and he wakes in Room, the same room that he has spent every day of his five years so far. Against the wall is Wardrobe, where he sleeps, and when he wakes he sees Ma, the only other person that he has ever had real contact with.

There is a fantastic air of mystery at the opening of the story. Although it is clear that Jack and his Ma are trapped it isn’t clear where or why. Are they in jail? Have they been kidnapped? Is Room even real? Does anyone else know about them?
And then little by little, Emma Donoghue doles out the whole horrifying tale.

It is difficult to talk in depth about the plot of Room without giving too much away, because so much of it is reliant of the timing of the information. It is easy though, to talk about Jack, a character who is both stunted and incredibly advanced because of his lifelong confinement.  In some ways it was difficult to get into the narrative at first because Jack speaks of all of the items in Room as though they have individual identities. This, coupled with the childlike nuances in his voice mean that the reader has to get used to the tone and flow of the narration before they can really lose themselves to the story.

Once you are in Jack’s voice doesn’t let go easily. He and Ma are likeable characters for the most part, and his story is as touching as it is disturbing. It is interesting to compare it to A Fine Balance as both were shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize (A Fine Balance in 1996 and Room in 2010). Where one is a sweeping  saga with universal themes, the other is a much more localised drama with an intimate cast of characters. It is an insightful glance at the tastes of judges over the years, and shows just how subjective any prize is.

Room is an interesting but troubling read. It is worth it in the end, but needs time to be digested and enjoyed on its ownSo be sure to keep something light on either side of it on the shelf!

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