Imagine the world is 11 x 11 foot square. You have four walls, a door that you aren’t allowed to open. You have your ma, a man you call Old Nick brings you food and everything we all know to be true, you only watch on TV.
Most days are the same, with little variation. You sleep in Bed, climb on Table, play PE on the track on the floor. Nothing else exists, until it does.
I’d been hearing a lot about this book due to the movie coming out late last year. I finally got my hands on a copy and was instantly hooked. The plot is fairly straight forward: a woman is kidnapped, impregnated and left to raise her son in the a fore mentioned 11 x 11 Room. However, the story is told from the perspective of “Ma”‘s five-year-old son Jack.
For me, this narration choice was a game changer. Instead of being brought into this cold, dungeon-like space, we are brought into Jack’s home, the only home he’s ever known. He’s naive, but curious and readers are able to see the effect of the world being built in such a specific way on his growing mind.
Although the plot points in this story are horrific, there is still a sense of innocence present. Having Jack narrate it completely change the tone of the entire book. At first, you almost don’t know to be afraid. At first, when Ma begins explaining things, you are second guessing what she is saying, too. There is a sense of something coming, but you realize right along side Jack that you are already in it. That he doesn’t call everything “Table” or “Chair” with capital T and C because he’s a child learning the names of things. He is led to believe that they are the only Table and Chair that exist, that “Outside” is another world and outside the unopenable door lies outer space.
As they attempt a great escape, you see Jack’s curiosity grow until Ma cannot contain it anymore. Donoghue writes some of the most beautiful, heart wrenching lines, “But is Room still there when we aren’t in it?” She perfectly captures the child like attachment to familiarity. I think she is one of few authors who can successfully enter the mind of a child and tell a convincing story from that stand point.
This narration allows her to create some interesting metaphors about Ma’s psychological state. She is able to show how resilient, even if quite reliant, Jack is and how broken Ma is while staying true to her narrator.
In some ways, there are things left to be desired when it comes to Ma’s personal growth and suffering in the story. However, I think it was genius to show how something like this appears to a child. I can only imagine Donoghue’s challenge with being able to include some of the more troubling details yet in a way a child would understand. She tackles this feat with grace.
Donoghue challenges what it means to be a mother and displays what lengths a mother will go to to keep her children safe among such horrors. She uses dialogue to explain to us some of which Jack cannot. One of my favorite lines that truly shows Ma’s love for her son is “You don’t think I would have given Jack a different color of play doh every day if I could have?”
Utterly gripping, Donoghue takes readers captive much like Jack and Ma with her well-crafted tale. The difference is, you won’t want to escape.