Being aware of the rather unappealing premise of ‘Room’, it wasn’t a book I wanted to read. Despite the praise heaped upon it, I had expected it to be the sort of voyeuristic account of great suffering that passes as entertainment these days. My book group however, were keen to read it, and so I acquiesced agreeing to give it a try. I have to say my original assumption was well wide of the mark. Right from the beginning it is obvious that this novel is something special.
The story (as you probably already know) is narrated by ‘Jack’, a five year old, who has only ever lived in ‘Room’. Jack’s mother has been kidnapped and held for seven years. Jack is the product of her kidnapper’s unwanted attentions. Knowing the book had a child narrator had also put me off reading it. I tend to find that books written with a child’s voice are normally pretentious and hard to read. Room’s Booker prize nomination had done nothing to allay these fears.
Although Jack’s voice is not entirely consistent with how I imagine a five-year-olds might be, it is the making of the novel. For a start, that something so pure and innocent can come from such bleak circumstances, makes the novel bearable. Secondly, Emma Donaghue uses Jack’s over-simplified understanding of the world almost without fault. She uses the space between reality and Jack’s view of reality to convey events in a much more powerful way than writing about them directly. The whole novel is the ultimate example of ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’.
It is curious that the most exciting point of the novel is about halfway through. Though I feel novel’s the gradual relaxation of tension is entirely justified (mirroring, Jack’s return to something like a normal life), it does make the last half of the novel feel over long. That said, following Jack coming to terms with ‘Outside’ is well-handled and almost as heart-breaking as his incarceration. For a book about such a dispiriting subject, `Room’ contains a surprising amount of humour; Jack’s unique view of the world, does show us all up to be rather foolish.
‘Room’ is a highly readable novel. Although not always pleasant, it is never depressing. If, like me, you are wavering about reading it, then I would say ‘Room’ is well worth a view.