In Room,Ma lives with her five-year-old son, Jack. Room is where Ma has lived for the past seven years. After being kidnapped at nineteen, Ma was put into a shed and physically and mentally abused by a man she and Jack call Old Nick. The shed is soundproofed, so no matter how loud they scream, the neighbors can’t hear them. Jack doesn’t know that the outside world is actually real. He thinks that the TV features stuff from other planets. He thinks that the world is like outer-space. Until one fateful day when Ma tells Jack everything.
Jack is the narrator in the novel Room. Through his eyes, we quickly learn that he has accepted that Room is the only place that he knows to be real. He was once told by Ma–who didn’t really quite know how to explain their situation to her son–what he believes to be true: that Room is the only real place in the universe.
Living in an 11-by-11 square shed, Jack truly believes that everything in there, down to the rug and the wardrobe, are his friends. He knows some things about the real world, like the fall of the Berlin Wall, but hasn’t really learned that there’s so much more to the world than just Room.
Ma protects Jack from seeing her get raped repeatedly by Old Nick by having him hide in Wardrobe before their captor comes into the shed. Jack can hear everything, but he thankfully doesn’t know what really is going on.
Language & speech
Even though he’s five years old, Jack sounds like he’s two years younger because of how he talks. He calls the objects in Room by their names, like some kids often do. But his lack of a strong vocabulary at times bothered me, because he’s later revealed to be a pretty smart boy.
The childish language could’ve been enhanced a bit, to show that Jack is a smart little kid. But Emma Donoghue went for using vocabulary that seems to better fit a three-year-old rather than a five-year-old.
Despite this flaw in the novel, I still think it reads okay. It’s simplicity makes it easy to read, at the very least.
Jack learns in Room, sleeps, eats, and plays in Room. He’s never been outside the shed that he thinks is his and Ma’s home.
Amid inventive toys, Jack plays with what is available to him, like Egg Snake, an egg carton. He gets a toy car with a remote, but it later runs out of batteries.
Jack and Ma ask for things on Sunday; they call this Sundaytreat. It’s usually items that they need, like more food, and not toys or candy, that Ma asks for.
After Ma tells Jack the truth about the outside world, he doesn’t want to believe her, but slowly comes to a realization that she must be right. (Because Ma is right about everything.)
She tells him stories about her childhood, and how she came to Room. This occurs during (roughly) a three day period where Old Nick is mad at them and turns off the heat in the shed.
When the heat is turned back on, Ma decides that she and Jack must devise a plan to get out of Room once and for all.
The escape to the outside world
Ma convinces Jack that he must pretend to be sick, trying to get Old Nick to be desperate enough to take Jack to a hospital.
When this doesn’t work, Ma comes up with another plan: Jack must pretend that he died. Rolled up in the rug on the floor, the same rug where she birthed him, he practices rolling himself out.
Old Nick plans to bury Jack somewhere away from the shed, and takes him away in the rug in his pickup truck.
Jack manages to get himself free, and is saved by a man walking his dog and pushing a baby in a stroller. Old Nick picks Jack up, but drops him when the man calls the police. He leaves in a hurry.
Jack, with the help of the local police, finds Room. Ma is thankfully unhurt and was anxiously awaiting the police’s rescue for about an hour.
Ma and Jack are finally free of Room.
Now their real life will begin.
I don’t want to spoil how the rest of the book ends up, so I’ll leave you with the above teaser.
Room is an okay book. Having watched the film first, I still think that the movie is better. Still, I wanted to give Room a try.
I like little kids, I really do. It’s just that the book could’ve been stronger if it were from Ma’s point of view. She clearly underwent a lot of abuse and trauma. Her story would’ve been more comprehensive; it could’ve been a story about a mother protecting (and then saving him) from the horrors of Old Nick.
I’m glad that I read Room, even if I didn’t fully enjoy it. Overall, it could’ve been a much stronger novel. The movie was much stronger than the book, in my opinion.