No room to manoeuvre

ROOM by Emma Donoghue (Picador)

Ma and Jack live in Room. Jack has just turned five. He loves to watch TV, but he knows that the cartoon characters and people he watches on his favourite shows don't really exist.
Nothing outside Room exists. Or so his Ma says.

Ma is the only person Jack has ever known, aside from Old Nick, but Ma says Jack has to be in the wardrobe by the time Old Nick comes into Room. Jack is supposed to be asleep by the time Old Nick visits, but sometimes he isn't. On those nights Jack lies awake and counts how many creaks the bed makes until Old Nick makes 'the gaspy sound and stops”.

Written entirely from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, Room is the haunting story of a mother and her son, held captive in the back yard of a monster. Emma Donoghue, the author of the bestseller Slammerkin, says she drew from the testimonies of real-life women who have been held captive, such as Natascha Kampusch and the more recently discovered Elisabeth Fritzl.

The first half of the book describes their daily lives in Room, and all of the activities that Ma invents to entertain and educate Jack, who believes that nothing outside of Room is real. The second half introduces Ma and Jack back into the real world and attempts to get to grips with the deep psychological issues that come with this resocialisation.

Donoghue is the author of collections of short stories such as Kissing the Witch, The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits and Touchy Subjects. Short stories appear to be her forté and Room may have been better off written as such. Although she has chosen an intriguing topic, her characters seem to be somewhat two-dimensional and underdeveloped. This may be because the story is told from the perspective of a five-year-old, which, although it appears to be a novel idea at first, becomes somewhat frustrating the further you get into the book.

Room, although it tackles weighty and horrific issues, can be read in one sitting and even manages to be light-hearted at times. Perfect as a travel companion, or just to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon with. But if you are looking for a novel that adequately gets to grips with this traumatic and very real topic, Room is not it.

Dylan Bush

Dylan Bush

Dylan Bush is the senior multimedia reporter for Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian's health journalism centre. A campaigner for social justice, Bush believes the world is not for sale and is passionate about exposing human rights violations in Southern Africa. Read more from Dylan Bush

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