By Gwendolyn Dawson
Told from the perspective of a 5-year-old boy named Jack, Donoghue’s Booker Prize-shortlisted novel Room is the story of a mother and her child held in captivity in a 121 square-foot room. Jack was born in the room and knows no other existence. To him, the small space is the entire world, and he and his mother are its only inhabitants. In an attempt to give her child a normal life, Jack’s mother fills their days with invented games and activities using their limited possessions. At the end of each day, Jack must go to sleep in a wardrobe by 9 pm in order to avoid encountering his mother’s captor (and his father), who drops by most nights to rape his female victim.
Despite this exceedingly grim premise, Jack’s innocence coupled with his mother’s enduring desire to create a happy life for him ensure that Room never wallows in sadness. Jack’s quirky view of his world is often humorous, and he’s perfectly content with his confined life. Donoghue does an admirable job writing from the perspective of a 5-year-old, though the inherent limitations of that perspective are occasionally tedious. Although the first third of the novel drags a bit, after Jack’s mother decides to take action to change their circumstances, the pace quickens dramatically. Given the constraints of her protagonist’s young age and narrow experience, the fact that Room is such an engaging novel is a remarkable achievement.
Gwendolyn Dawson is the founder of Literary License. Her reviews appear here and there regularly.