As the book opens, we meet Jack, age five. He seems happy, though he's never been outdoors, never talked to anyone except his mother, never had a haircut. The story is told in Jack's voice, a believable mixture of big words and childish concepts. He speaks of Room with fond familiarity.
Jack's Ma has been held by a kidnapper for seven years. Alone in Room (HarperCollins 2010), she has given birth to her son, created a life for him, and kept him out of the sight of Old Nick, Jack's rapist father and their jailer. Ma has tried to escape, but the skylight is completely unbreakable. Digging under Room, she was blocked by the metal mesh her cunning captor installed there.
Now she puts all her energy in keeping Jack safe and healthy. Once a week under cover of darkness, Old Nick brings them food. Each day they have their meals and brush their teeth. While Nick is at work, the two race around their small prison in a game called Exercise. Then they stand up on the bed to see out the skylight and have Scream.
But things are about to change. Old Nick has been laid off and mother and son no longer have the freedom of movement and voice they enjoyed during the hours when he was at work. When something angers him, he turns off the electricity for four days, and brings no food. Inaction is dangerous now; they must get out.
Ma has to explain to Jack about the real world outside Room, where they are going. Ma knows she must devise a means to escape, which she does, with Jack's help. Their one-shot bid for freedom takes every ounce of courage they have.
Knowing it was about a mother and son kept under lock and key by a nasty kidnapper, I avoided Emma Donohue's book, feared it would be too harrowing. Once I picked it up, I couldn't stop reading. The story is beautifully told in the voice of the five-year-old narrator, as delightful a protagonist as any novelist has ever imagined.
No wonder this novel by Emma Donohue was nominated for the Man Booker and Orange Prize, and won the Hughes Irish Novel of the Year as well as the Commonwealth Prize for Canada and the Caribbean, The Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and other prizes.