Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010. 336 pp)

Emma Donoghue was born in Dublin, Ireland to Frances and Denis Donoghue. She attended University College Dublin earning first-class honors in English and French. Later, she received her Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge. In addition to Room, she has written the Sealed Letter, Landing, Touchy Subjects, Life Mask, the Woman who Gave Birth to Rabbits, Slammerkin, Kissing the Witch, Hood, and Stirfry. Donoghue lives in Ontario, Canada with her family.

All the Pretty Colors

Consider infrared and ultraviolet light. We know it exists, yet the human eye is unable to perceive it. If we could view these portions of the spectrum, what would it look like? In other words, could you imagine new colors? Emma Donoghue’s Room explores a similar motif.

Room depicts the captivity of five-year-old Jack and his mother, Ma. Although the book lacks significant action, its presentation and plot provide for fascinating reading.

Worlds Within Worlds

To start, Room is narrated through the mind of our five-year-old protagonist. Born in Room, Jack’s world exists in a confined space. While the reader and ma understand the wealth people, objects, and ideas in the external world or “Outer Space” as Jack likes to think of it, Jack’s surroundings supply him with the incapacity of understanding his predicament.
Blessed with a television and the possibility of receiving a weekly gift known as “Sunday Treat,” Jack has no reason to criticize his environment.
When Ma attempts to educate Jack about their mutual situation, Jack finds the conclusions incomprehensible.

“Outside has everything. Whenever I think of a thing no like skis or fireworks or islands or elevators or yo-yos, I have to remember that they’re real, they’re actually happening in Outside all together. It makes my head tired. And people too, firefighters teachers burglars saints soccer players and all sorts, they’re all really in Outside. I’m not there, though, me and Ma, we’re the only ones not there. Are we still real?” (70-71).

Moreover, Jack’s immense imagination illustrates Room as a fantastical dreamscape. It is imperative to congratulate Donoghue on her well-crafted representation of Jack and his relationship with his mother.

In the Mind of Children

On top of these themes, reading the story through the mind of a child creates an intriguing dichotomy as the reader is painfully aware of the horror surrounding the reality of the situation. In times of sickening events happening to Ma, Jack does not contain the maturity to fully understand the situation.
For this reason, the reader is presented the story in childish terms while understanding the grim truth surrounding the narrative in adult terms.
Just as the very idea of comprehending infrared and ultraviolet light as entirely new colors provides foreign results, the exterior world surrounding Room supplies ideas much too grand for Jack to understand. In Room, Donoghue writes compellingly about an intriguing concept with dark-yet-beautiful results. Highly recommended.

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