Review: Room (Emma Donoghue)

Disclaimer: All thoughts and opinions are simply my own honest ones and I have not been asked to write this review. Not everyone may agree with my thoughts and that’s okay! I hope you enjoy reading about mine.

Rating: 1 Star

At nineteen a young woman is kidnapped and held captive in a single room, in the backyard shed of a man they’ve named Old Nick. The novel is told from the perspective of five year old Jack (who is the son Ma had with Old Nick). Jack has lived every day of his life in Room and sleeps in a wardrobe while Old Nick comes in at nights to “visit” his mother. Up until his fifth birthday Jack thinks that Room is the only real thing in the world and is surprised to learn the truth from his mother – that Room is just one place in the entire world and most things he’s seen on TV are actually out there “for real.”

A few days after Jack’s fifth birthday his mother devises a plan to escape after seven years in captivity using Jack as her saviour.

Review (Spoilers)
I truly wanted to love this book – I thought the premise was fresh and new. A book told from the complicated and confused perspective of a five year old boy who’s never been outside of the four walls he was born into; the concept was genius. Unfortunately the execution didn’t pan out to be. Without knowing at least a brief overview of what the novel was about, it would have been an incredibly difficult storyline to follow since little Jack obviously wasn’t aware of everything going on.

Much of what happened seemed unbelievable, despite the fact that it was a piece of fiction. Ma didn’t act very much like a kidnap victim inside of Room and she became pretty much unimaginable once she began to plot their escape.

I’m not sure how many mother’s would ask their five year old son to play dead only a few days after throwing a bomb into his “normal” world. She tells him the story of her kidnap (which was also hard to swallow since she was apparently nineteen at the time that a strange man lured her into his vehicle under the pretence of helping his sick dog). The whole story seemed off to me, since the sad reality is that (while not every single time) often times that ploy is used mostly on younger children (at nineteen I’m not sure how many grown adults would fall for the sick puppy trick?) not to mention that more often than not, kidnappers take children, not grown adults. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an expert and I certainly don’t think there’s an exact factual outline of how kidnap occurs, it just wasn’t written in the most plausible sense, to me, at least.

Beyond that fact, she’s been held captive seven years and has had her son for five. She tells him basically in the course of a week that she’s been lying about the world (having told him that everything on TV was made up), then pushes him into an escape plan she’s concocted to free them both, despite the fact that he’s adamantly against it. She doesn’t even give him enough time to come to terms with the bombshell she drops and has him practise being dead so that Old Nick will take him out of Room to bury his body, where he’s expected to jump out of the back of a truck and find a stranger to speak to – even though he’s never spoken to a single other human being, other than his mother for the entirety of his life.

Furthermore, once they’re freed, Ma doesn’t react in the way that anyone would expect someone who had been held captive for seven years to act. Again, there’s no right or normal way to deal with the situation, but she seemed perfectly ready to jump right back into the world, just where she’d left off. She wasn’t afraid at all, she didn’t seem to be experiencing any type of difficulties readjusting to the world she spent seven years cut off from. She’s eager to speak with police and doctors and I think what’s most off-putting to me, is that while she clearly has no issue jumping right back in to the world, she doesn’t seem at all sensitive to the fact that her child is experiencing a lot of fear and apprehension (understandably) as he realizes for the first time that there is an entire world filled with people he’s never known before.

Ma almost seemed irritated that he wasn’t excited about being ripped out of the only world and room he’s ever known. Her reaction to everything seemed a bit strange to me, but more specifically her reaction to her son’s needs (or lack thereof) after he essentially frees her, seemed cold.

I think the only leg this book had to stand on, is (one) the idea that “everyone may react to such a situation in different ways, and if you’ve never been through it, you can’t possibly determine what is right or wrong,” means that technically anything is possible, and (two) when she’s confronted with the fact that she could have asked Old Nick to take Jack out of Room and leave him somewhere where he could be found and given to a family who could have raised him in the world, she reacts by nearly overdosing, which is the one grand show of emotion and regret for the life her child could have had. While I don’t think her choice to keep her son was necessarily awful or selfish (I mean, I’m sure it’s most mother’s natural instinct to want to keep their child close) I think her regret for the life he could have had was the one time she seemed genuinely invested in her son.

Overall this book wasn’t very captivating. It moved a bit too fast for my taste and didn’t really provide much character development as I’m sure it would have been difficult to do that from a five year old’s perspective.

Note: Room is currently on Netflix.

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