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Right up there, tied with Wolf Hall, Room is the best book of the year so far. I can always trust the Man Booker for good recommendations. When the long list recently came up I ordered Peter Carey’s Parrot and Olivier in America straight away and while browsing Waterstones last weekend I couldn’t resist the idea behind “Room”. From the back cover:
Jack is five and excited about his birthday. He lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measure eleven feet by eleven feet. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.
He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows that nothing he sees on-screen is truly real – only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until the day Ma admits that there’s a world outside.
“Room” is told from Jack’s POV and he’s the only source of information we have about his life. It’s always great to find a book with a credible child’s voice and this one is especially powerful because although being a precocious child, Jack knows very little of the world. Also, through him we pick up on things he can’t understand, for instance, everyday except on Saturdays and Sundays, he and Ma play the Screaming game, where they stand on the table and scream at the top of their lungs and then stay silent for a few minutes.
Donoghue’s “Ma” easily turns into a figure of survival and resilience. How do you raise a healthy, happy and sane child in a room? How do you make sure that your child has enough exercise? How do you stay happy enough to make your child happy, when you’ve been trapped for seven years?
Room is tiny, but Emma Donoghue creates a whole world inside it with no futile sentimentality and an unexpected dose of humor – in Room, there’s always “thousands of things to do”. The expression “world-building” can be used here without hesitation, and the best constructed one I’ve seen in years (sorry Brandon Sanderson). Highly recommended.