Room was written in 2010 by Emma Donoghue. It was shortlisted for many awards, including the Man Booker Prize and the Governor General’s Awards in 2010. The novel received the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize in 2011, in the Canadian and Caribbean category.
Donoghue stated that she based the book upon the experiences of Elisabeth Fritzl, who was imprisoned by her father, Josef Fritzl, for 24 years. Elisabeth gave birth to seven children in captivity, with one of the youngest being Felix, of whom was the same age as Jack upon their release.
Room is told from Jack’s perspective, the five-year-old son of the woman who has been kidnapped and imprisoned for seven years in a room by a man they call ‘Old Nick’. It details the life that his Mother has tried to build for them, from making toys out of old egg shells, to completing their exercises in the morning to stay fit. Old Nick brings them food, and gives them special items on Sundays, which they can request a week at a time. To Jack, this is all he has ever known, and it all seems completely normal. Yet, Old Nick’s abuse is evident, as rape is heavily implicated, with Jack only hearing the bed creak from his make-shift bed in the cupboard. After an incident where the woman, named only ‘Ma’, screams at Old Nick to stay away from Jack, he punishes them by switching off the electricity. Ma learns from Old Nick that he is jobless and in debt, and she is worried that the bailiffs will visit his house. She believes this will result in her and Jack’s death, as Old Nick would never let them be found. Ma decides it is time for them to escape. She tries to explain to Jack about the Outside world. As he has never seen it, it is extremely hard and he initially does not believe her. Eventually, Jack sees a leaf and a plane out the skylight and begins to believe Ma. Firstly, Ma tries to fake that Jack has a fever, and begs Old Nick to take him to a hospital on the outside. When this doesn’t work, she pretends Jack is dead and wraps him in a rug. Old Nick puts him in his truck to bury him. Jack escapes, and manages to explain to the police where his Ma is. She is rescued also, and they are taken to an institution. They try to avoid the paparazzi, and adjusting to the outside world is extremely difficult for Jack. He meets his grandparents, and uncle, and finds the amount of people he needs to meet overwhelming. After coming back from a day out with his uncle, Paul, he discovers that Ma has overdosed on painkillers. He stays with his grandparents whilst she recovers, in intensive care. Once she recovers, Ma and Jack move in to a flat in an Independent living complex, and they attempt a normal life, experiencing new things every day. At the end, Jack and Ma revisit Room for Jack to say goodbye.
Donoghue focuses heavily on the themes of isolation, and the impacts of this when Jack is given too much freedom to process. It also offers an eye-opening perspective on kidnap. The reader does not witness the kidnap itself, but is introduced to Jack and Ma seven years in. Therefore, we are normalized to their surroundings in Room before we are to their presence in the outside world, the same reversal experienced by the protagonists. This is enhanced by the child’s perspective. In using Jack’s voice to narrate the story, the shocking events that occur –Old Nick’s nightly visit to rape Ma, her broken wrist, turning off the electricity as a punishment –are described simply, a child’s perspective without complex emotion.
Room was adapted in to a film that was released in 2011, starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay.