Room is Emma Donoghue‘s seventh novel. It became an international bestseller from the moment it reached the shelves in 2010 and was short-listed for the Man Booker prize. I’m embarrassed to say I knew nothing about Room until the trailers for the film version came out. The reason I share my shame is because everyone lives in some kind of isolation from the world. In 2010 I was in the thick of balancing writing, childrearing and disgruntled patients in desperate need of root canals. I’m not saying my isolation can compare to what the protagonist in Donoghue’s novel endured, neither will yours. Yet, isolation is one of the common grounds through which we are able to connect with this extraordinary journey.
Room is the story of a five-year-old called Jack, who lives in a single room with his Ma and has never been outside. When he turns five he starts to ask questions, and his Ma reveals to him that there is a world beyond the walls. Room is told entirely in Jack’s voice.
Twelve days have passed since I finished Room and I still miss Jack.
Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra.
The first two lines, Jack’s first thoughts and I fall in love. His energy, wonder, imagination, faith and trust resonate in every line and the spaces in between. But his wonder is where the magic happens. All children possess a sense of wonder but Jack’s is magnified because all he knows of the world is contained in Room, thanks to his mother’s genius in explaining life so it fits within the four walls of their existence.
The moon is God’s silver face that only comes on special occasions.
Nothing more than this and yet, we know Jack feels how fortunate he is to have this opportunity to see the Crescent Moon. And it’s not because he feels deprived because there are thousands of things to do each morning. Jack’s enthusiasm for every element of his life is the counter weight to what the readers understand about the horrible truth of his existence through his mom’s explanations.
“Remember we have to choose things he can get easily…I just mean, he might have to go to two or three stores, and that would make him cranky. And what if he didn’t find the impossible thing, then we probably wouldn’t get Sunday treat at all.”
“But Ma,” I laugh. “He doesn’t go in stores. Stores are in TV.”
The power of what goes unsaid lingers and smacks against every moment of Jack’s joy, so the tragedy of the situation weighs heavy in the readers hearts.
Still, whenever I think of Room I never think of tragedy. Instead I marvel at the resilience of the human spirit, the inherent hope and faith that belongs to each of us, and the power of love. The bond between Ma and Jack is infectious. We love both of them instantly because of the strength of the love they share. We want to protect the two of them as much as Ma wants to protect Jack from Old Nick, and the equally frightening possibility that Old Nick could permanently abandon them. The love Ma and Jack share is the purest form of love between a mother and child. They are each other’s lifeblood, happiness and sorrow. When their circumstance changes and Ma is taken away because the doctors are trying to figure out what she needs, and Jack offers the cure…
Me, she needs me.
It’s difficult to swallow how no one else seems to grasp this truth. The simplicity in Jack’s solution winds us back to his level of wonder—far beyond our own. Jack’s time with Ma in Room, removed from the bustle of the outside world provided him with five years of contemplation and space to appreciate every aspect of his existence. He experiences disappointments as well—no birthday candles for his cake—but these moments never overtake his spirit or his gratitude for having the opportunity to come from Heaven into Ma’s tummy to save her.
Contemplation has been at the forefront of my days since reading Room. Marveling at the wonder of Jack and his extraordinary journey has showed me there are really only three kinds of fiction. The first dazzles and expands our imagination and leaves us with a new perspective on who we are and what we are capable of. The second is an undercurrent that washes through us and opens our awareness to our self and the world on a very personal level. The third blooms from the author’s heart and zooms directly into our own; the depth to which these stories touch us is so difficult to explain, sometimes the only thing you can do is hand the book to a friend and say, “Read this.”—this is Room.