Jack is five years old and has never been outside Room, a small 12 foot square, locked shed with a single skylight (shades of Beckett here perhaps?). He lives there with Ma, his mother, who, it turns out, has been held captive for seven years by Old Nick. Though never having been outside, they do have access to a television, through which he views the world, which he believes exists within TV. He, Ma and Old Nick are the only living creatures in his world and he has the undivided attention of Ma all day, every day.
After a daring (only slightly unbelievable) escape, Ma and Jack enter Outside where everything is new for Jack. He is terrified by the slap of the wind on his face, or the feel of rain on his skin. But all has changed and changed forever. Donoghue’s imaginative reach is brilliant.
The book made the shortlist for this year’s Man Booker but lost out to The Finkler Question (more of it anon). Donoghue, and Irish writer who lives in Canada, has created a confined world and a cast of compelling characters. And in a world which has become so recently familiar with the dark world of confinements – from Chilean miners to Nastascha Kampusch – the sensitive skin and eyes of the captives is so recognisable. The best decision Donoghue made was to write through the eyes of Jack which allows us to view our world through innocent eyes. The result is challenging, funny, sad and remarkable. In the innocence of Jack, only five years old, the reader gets a wise and insightful commentary on contemporary life – television, celebrity, shopping malls, consumerism, stress, relationship and family.
The supporting cast are terrific, especially Ma’s mother and her partner Steppa. Brother Paul and his family bring Jack for his first visit to a shopping mall and the results are hilarious and so familiar to anyone with young kids.
There’s a couple of small mis-steps I think. Donoghue can’t resist preaching just a little through Jack about how modern adults have no time for their children. She may very well be right, but not sure wee Jack would have had that insight. But this is only a slight niggle. By and large she sustains the voice extraordinarily well.
A great read, thoroughly recommended. I finished it at 3am yesterday morning.