Room, by Emma Donoghue

RoomI don’t normally read reviews until after I’ve finished the book, especially if I’m planning to review it myself. This way I’m not influenced by what other people have to say. With Room, though, I made the mistake of hitting the Internet at the end of the work day (probably a Friday), and foolishly found myself on GoodReads. Bad move. It reminded me of when I started reading Speaking From Among the Bones, by Alan Bradley. As I always do, I leapt to the back of the book to see how many pages I was in for and once there, I accidentally read the very last sentence. Massive spoiler, but what an ending!

The reviews for Room were a completely mixed bag. Some people devoured it within a couple of days, while others found the whole thing agonising. One person’s comment annoyingly stuck in my mind, meaning that for the entire book I was on the alert for any breastfeeding incidents (thank you Michelle), but this aside, Room turned out to be an intriguing story. Forcing us to ask some serious and interesting questions, it’s based on the real life events surrounding Josef Frizl. Frizl imprisoned his daughter at the age of eighteen in the soundproof, windowless basement of the home he shared with his unwitting wife. Fathering seven children to his daughter, he admitted to raping her at least 3,000 times over the course of 24 years: the stuff of nightmares.

Although Donoghue’s account was somewhat watered-down by comparison, by “softening” the story, she was able to reach and inform a broader audience. The central characters are Ma and Jake, aged five. Told through the narration of Jake, we learn that Ma was abducted at 19 by Old Nick. For the past seven years Ma has been imprisoned in an 11’ by 11’ garden shed that Nick sound and escape-proofed. With only the very basic of furnishings and regular nightly visits by Old Nick, Ma is forced to eke out an existence and to maintain a highly regimented routine in order to stay both sane and healthy. Jake is born in Room, as he calls it, and Ma does the best job she can, creating a world for him that he can relate to and understand.

When they finally escape from Room they are faced with the ordeal, in Jake’s case, of entering the real world for the first time. As Jake says: “When I was four I thought everything in TV was just TV, then I was five and Ma unlied about lots of it being pictures of real and Outside being totally real. Now I’m in Outside but it turns out lots of it isn’t real at all.”

It’s mindboggling to think how such a situation could impact on a person’s life: the absolute confinement followed by freedom in a world that seems to go on forever. The only fresh air they received was when Old Nick opened the door, and they were at the complete mercy of his whims when it came to what they ate or whether they would have new clothes.

Room is certainly food for thought.

Rosemary

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