‘Room’ tells the harrowing story of Ma, kidnapped seven years ago by captor Old Nick and her five year old son Jack who are imprisoned in a single room. Partially inspired by Josef Fritzl’s incarceration of his daughter, there are no real surprises to the plot of this novel if you are familiar with the background of this case. But whereas the hysterical media coverage of such crimes often focuses as much if not more on the abusers than the abused, Donoghue has wisely chosen to focus on the story of Ma and Jack rather than Old Nick who only makes brief appearances throughout.
For Ma, Room is a prison where she has been abused and raped. But for Jack, Room is home and he knows nothing else. It is his struggle to deal with the alien concept of Outside that is the most affecting aspect of the book. As well as writing very convincingly on this subject, Donoghue is also excellent at building suspense and evoking the claustrophobia of solitary confinement.
The story is told from the point of view of Jack whose language and intelligence levels I thought were a little inconsistent for a five year old. However, once the pace picked up, I soon found myself hooked. Even though I still have my doubts about the plausibility of Jack’s character, I do think it was more effective to have him as the narrator than from any other perspective. In some ways though, his innocence makes the already harrowing subject matter even more disturbing but thankfully avoids mawkishness.
Avoiding both sensationalism and over-sentimentality, ‘Room’ is a gripping book that will stay with the reader for a long time afterwards.