Room (Harper Collins) by Emma Donoghue is told from the point of view of Jack who is about to turn five. That alone made me leave this book on my shelf for several weeks. I'm not really interested in a story told by a five year old. I reluctantly accepted I would have to tackle it eventually because I bought it and like it or not it was mine and I should at least start it.
I was set to dislike this book intensely and was looking for a reason to toss it aside. That reason just never came along. From Wiki:
The novel begins on the day before the fifth birthday of Jack, who lives with his Ma in Room, a small enclosed space (an 11 X 11 room) containing a small kitchen, a bathtub, a wardrobe, a bed and a TV set. Since it is all he has ever known, Jack likes living in Room and believes that it constitutes the real world, while everything he sees on TV is completely separate and not real.
This is not a sad or horrifying story which is a huge credit to the author considering the circumstances of Jack and Ma's life in Room. Jack's mother, Ma, was kidnapped as a teen by a man twice her age and held in this room in a garden shed. He kept her alive and used her sexually. Jack is the product of these assaults. Yes it's gruesome subject matter at face value especially because stories like this have abounded in the news in recent years and we know several women have experienced the same kind of confinement. Donoghue manages to tell this story without being maudlin or sensational and without manipulating our emotions.
Jack and Ma eventually escape and then must learn to deal with Outside. Ma readjusting to the world she was forced to leave behind and Jack to a world that he didn't know existed and has to adjust to the world he knew being a lie. Outside is both vastly larger and smaller than he imagined.
It manages to be an uplifting story. I think the fact that she manages this in spite of the subject matter is what stays with you long after the book is finished. I found myself wondering if Elizabeth Fritzl did the same things with her kids as Ma did with Jack. How does one provide for a child's mind and body when your entire life is lived in a single room? How does a person maintain their own mental health?
Emma Donoghue has a list of literary awards as long as this post. Man Booker prize, NYT Best seller, Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, Governor General's Awards, shortlist and so on. It is deserved and Room is one of the best books I've ever read.