Spoiler Warning – I can’t discuss this book without giving plot details away. If you haven’t read it, please do. If you don’t want to spoil it, suffice to say that I was so engrossed I missed my train stop once and then went home on a Sunday afternoon and hours passed without me even noticing. It’s disturbing and challenging, but engrossing.
I resisted reading this book for a long time. It was hyped everywhere when it came out and a few of my friends raved about it on Goodreads and in person, but the premise – a five-year old boy locked in a room with his mother by her kidnapper/rapist narrates his conscribed life – was just too off-putting for me.
I was stupid. This book is amazing. Haunting and disturbing of course, but ultimately hopeful and beautiful too. At first I was afraid that Jack (that’s the boy)’s voice would become tiresome, but after three pages I found its peculiar rhythm charming. The book offers a unique guess at the interior life of a toddler becoming a child. Yes Jack’s evolution is extreme, he goes from believing Room is the world and everything else is TV to understanding as well as he can the horror his mother is experiencing, but the way he tries to connect to the inanimate world around him, making friends out of Table, Wall, and Jeep felt very realistic to me.
[Second spoiler warning-seriously stop reading here if you don’t want to know major things that happen.]
A lot of reviewers say the book loses its power when Ma and Jack escape Room, and I have to admit that at first I was concerned that Donoghue wouldn’t be able to sustain the simplistic power of the first part of the book. But once again I was being stupid, the process of watching this in some ways advanced and in some ways almost feral boy, adjust to the actual world was fascinating and gripping.
I realize I’ve written almost exclusively about Jack, a hazard of the fact that he is the narrator, but the strength of his Ma is the truly inspirational character here. Her ability to create a sense of happiness and reality for her son is inspiring, but her emotional struggle, even in the blurry glimpses we get from Jack, is complicated and unfortunately all too real.
This is a story about a horrific experience, but the experience of reading it was exhilarating.