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In Room, Emma Donoghue, challenges her reader to imagine the world of five-year-old boy, Jack, trapped in a room with his Ma, by captor, Old Nick. The author builds the novel around narrator, Jack’s, innocent, naive, confused point of view, which draws the reader in as empathic listener and participant in his genuine story. The reader is touched, saddened, disturbed by Donoghue’s thorough and authentic portrayal of the differences in perspective and coping mechanisms in child and adult. Donoghue portrays inevitable changes in Jack; and, the reader is impacted along with him, as his story and psyche evolve and his childhood thoughts, emotions, and experiences merge with those of an adult. The reader follows Jack’s thoughts, increasingly concerned and engrossed, moving closer to understanding as his perspective shifts from innocence to experience

Donoghue’s narration sends information about Jack and his Ma’s lives from a small child’s perspective, which asks the reader to consider the differences in thought and emotion between children and adults. Jack tells the reader what he knows and sees, which the reader soon discovers is nothing outside of Room: he knows Ma, Old Nick, Bed, Lamp, TV, but nothing outside, and no other people. The author encourages the reader to think about the benefits of a child’s lack of knowledge. Only after thinking about the scene through the eyes of a child, does the reader interpret the perceptions into an adult’s world view, and realize Jack is sheltered by his age. While Jack fails to grasp the heaviness of never leaving Room, as he continues his story, the reader sees and feels the weight of the situation through Ma. In Room, Ma’s adulthood and understanding of their situation leave her to suffer alone. She and Jack experience things separately, because of their different levels of cognition and comprehension; Jack stays uninvolved and sheltered and Ma is exposed to the truth. But, Ma and the reader know Jack won’t remain unaffected forever.

The author starts Jack’s story with him young and naive, but as he learns and grows, a process of realization and understanding occurs for both character and reader. Through Jack’s past and present experiences, the reader is forced to think about the impact of maturation and gained understanding on memory and perception. There are unsettling and unfamiliar moments when Jack’s too small to know what’s happening, for example, when Jack hears Ma being raped and physically abused by Old Nick or “when Ma goes away.” Both reader and Jack sense something is wrong, but he doesn’t know what he sees or hears. Things that the child cannot fathom are pieced together as the child ages, so that these scenes are more salient and impactful later in the story. When Jack is older and wiser, he starts to comprehend the truth and gravity of his experiences, and he starts to think critically. He reflects about his overall experience instead of focusing on single thoughts or events, when he considers, “Ma said we’d be free but this doesn’t feel like free.” (257) The reader watches Jack go from complete ignorance to understanding new concepts and thinking in complex new ways. His transition from boy to young adult leaves a lasting impression on him and the reader, because now he knows and must process the serious nature of things the reader grasps from the beginning.

Room is an unmatched shared experience between narrator and reader. Donoghue pulls at the heart strings of the reader: he or she feels like a five-year-old child and cares for him like a parent. Through Jack’s story, she conveys a deep dark place in a child’s memory that most adults don’t know how or can’t remember how to access. This perfect blend of child and adult thought and emotion, navigates the reader seamlessly through one boy’s struggle and evolution, vividly, honestly, unforgettably.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

More Information:

Film:  Room (2015)