Room is a haunting novel told from the perspective of a young boy, Jack, who has been trapped in a small room with his mother his whole life.
Jack is completely unaware of the outside world aside from what he sees on TV, which he thinks is make believe. Room is literally his own little world which he shares with Ma, interrupted only by the ominous, late-night appearances of Old Nick, their captor.
Jack and Ma have a routine they follow religiously, presumably because it helps the mother keep her sanity. The routine is kept on a tight time schedule and includes laundry, bathing, cooking, working out, reading (Jack loves Alice and Wonderland; there were tons of references to it!), and “parroting” TV–where Ma pauses the TV and Jack has to repeat what was just said.
Despite their routine and activities, Jack observes that Ma is “gone” sometimes–meaning she lays on the bed all day and doesn’t move or speak. Jack is obligated to entertain himself and wait for her to “come back.” She has been locked in Room for seven years, and Jack doesn’t understand her discontent; Room is all he’s ever known.
When Jack turns five, Ma begins to “unlie” or to tell Jack that they are not the only people in the world, and the world is much more than Room.
Jack and Ma concoct a plan to free themselves from Room and, through an extraordinary bit of cunning, manage to escape.
The rest of the story is truly fascinating, more so than the beginning. Jack has to come to terms with the outside world, which–up until a few weeks ago–he thought wasn’t real. Think about it. He’s never seen sunshine, trees, animals, other people. Donoghue does a brilliant job of placing the reader right in Jack’s shoes, seeing everything from his perspective. What is it like for Jack to be “born again” at five years old? Can he and his mother adapt to Outside?
This is a unique story told with striking attention to language and detail. The voice is endearing, irritating, and haunting–I still haven’t decided if I like Jack or Ma, but this story of psychological survival is quite enchanting. I have never read anything like it.