Emma Donoghue: Room

Emma Donoghue’s novel Room presents a deeply disturbing and for the most part convincing scenario through the innocent eyes of a five year old child. Jack has spent the entirety of his life locked in a single room with his mother, their only fellow inmates being the fixtures and fittings which have been ascribed personalities in order to give the boy some kind of semblance of companionship: Door, Lamp, Skylight, Table and so on. They have a TV but otherwise no means or hope of contacting the outside world. Sometimes they are visited in the night by a forbidding presence referred to as Old Nick – on these occasions Jack hides in the wardrobe and can only listen to and report on the interactions this man has with his mother. Jack’s tone is generally happy and upbeat, but his descriptions of his situation are chilling and, as we know from certain recent real-life events, far from implausible.

I’ll admit that while reading the book I was dreading what I though the outcome might turn out to be, and was surprised by the plot that develops after the first long establishing section of the novel. This is undeniably gripping, unpredictable and page-turning stuff. I did however have a few niggly reservations that prevent me from whole-heartedly recommending the book, mainly to do with Jack’s sometimes rather unbelievable level of articulacy. I accept that a 400 page book constructed purely at the writing level of a five year old would be pretty unreadable, and that the author has carefully laid in the tip-offs to the reader that the boy is unusually advanced in this area for his age, thanks largely to his mother, but every so often one comes across a perfect transcription of sophisticated adult speech or use of a high-level term like “agonisingly” that does serious damage to one’s suspension of disbelief. It’s a shame, because the author is for the main part very skilled and very successful at making the character three-dimensional and likeable, and Lord knows I haven’t got the talent, imagination or application to have pulled it off. My other main issue with the book is that it seems to climax too early, with the second half not having the same narrative pull as the first. It feels like Donoghue recognises this as she includes a dramatic twist towards the end which seems a bit forced, although the last scenes of the book do provide a satisfying, er, closure. Definitely a good read though, despite my nit-picks.

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