Room by Emma Donoghue

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Stories are a different kind of true.

Room is one of those books I’ve wanted to read for ages, but put off because I was almost certain I’d be disappointed. Having finally read it, I am still chastising myself for nearly missing out on it – this turned out to be such a wonderful, harrowing read and it’s become one of my all-time favourite books.

Now, if you don’t know anything about Room’s plot, avert your eyes, because this is about to get somewhat spoilerish.

We meet Jack, a bubbly five-year-old, who shares Room with his Ma (Jack is also the reason for my initial reluctance to read this book since I’ve never before met a child narrator who brought a story to life instead of just feeling gimmicky, but I digress…). All his friends live in Room – Dora who lives inside TV, an eggshell snake who lives beneath Bed; in fact, every item they own holds some special significance to Jack and he treasures them all. He spends his days reading, playing with Ma and every week he especially looks forward to Sunday Treat brought by Old Nick. As Jack sees it, he’s got a pretty good deal. Only, Jack has never left Room. And everything he knows about the world is, according to Ma, “just TV”. And then, one day, Ma tells him an unbelievable story. A story about a place called Outside…

What really got to me is the absolute innocence with which Jack narrates this story. He doesn’t understand why Ma isn’t quite happy in Room, why she sometimes grows quiet and spends the whole day in Bed, why he must stay in the closet  when Old Nick comes by, or why Ma sometimes have marks on her body after he leaves. Room to him, and his life in it, is magical and it’s all he knows. He doesn’t realize that being held captive in a tiny 11×11 room isn’t normal and that his entire existence is the result of a terrible crime.

The most wonderful aspect of this book, though, is definitely the character of Ma. We only see her through Jack’s eyes, but throughout the book we glimpse plenty about her life before and during their stay in Room and it’s an unsettling picture. I think Ma is such a brave character, she knows that she needs to shield Jack from their cruel circumstances, she knows that she needs to create a world where Room is all there is for as long as need be, to protect him. And she never knows for certain that they’ll ever escape. I’ve really never admired a fictional character as much as I admire Ma.

Room is a must read. It’s nearly impossible to finish this incredible, heartbreaking book without reaching for the tissues at least once.

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