Today I am five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I woke up in Bed in the dark I am changed to five abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. “Was I minus numbers?”
Jack is the narrator of Emma Donoghue’s stunning novel, Room. (Yes, I am late to the bandwagon; everyone and their dog was talking about this book when it first came out. But you all know I buy more books than it will ever be possible for me to read, right?)
From the book’s opening scene until I closed the novel a few hours later I was totally mesmerized by Jack and his Ma and the eleven by eleven world they lived in, their ‘Room.’ Jack and Ma live in this Room because of Old Nick, a predator who kidnapped Ma when she was 19 and has held her captive for seven years. Room is a prison, but it’s also the only home Jack has ever known. He doesn’t understand Outside, but he’s curious and Ma knows that time is running out. They must find a way to escape.
Jack is a mesmerizing character and although it was risky to allow the story be told entirely through him, it’s a risk that pays off. His worldview is so naive. He has no real concept of time (his sixth birthday will happen next week, his birthday cake takes hours and hours to make) and he believes that the people in TV “are made just of colors.” His world is structured: sleep, eat, exercise, watch TV, read. His only playmate is his mother, but even through his innocent eyes he can see that Ma is struggling. Sometimes she spends entire days “Gone.” Sometimes she displays emotions Jack is unable to understand.
What wakes me up is a noise over and over. Ma’s not in bed. There’s a bit of light, the air’s still icy. I look over the edge, she’s in the middle of Floor going thump thump thump with her hand. “What did Floor do?”
Ma stops, she puffs out a long breath. “I need to hit something,” she says, but I don’t want to break anything.”
“Actually, I’d love to break something. I’d love to break everything.”
“I don’t like her like this. “What’s for breakfast?”
Room is a remarkable achievement. It reads like a thriller; I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. But it is also a beautiful testament to the power of love. What wouldn’t Ma do for Jack? Even more amazing, is what Jack is willing and able to do for Ma. I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time.