I have to admit that after reading a summary of this novel I was concerned that the “creep factor” was going to be too much for me. I almost passed it by, but because it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, I decided to take a chance.
I’m glad that I did.
Briefly, this is the story of a woman raising her 5-year old son, Jack, in the confines of an 11 x 11 foot room. They have no contact with the outside world except for a nightly visitor whom the child calls “Old Nick”. See – lots of reason to be suspicious of just how creepy it will be. Here’s why it’s not . . .
First, the emphasis is on how the woman, whom we only know as “Ma”, struggles to construct an existence for her son that is as close to normal as possible. She’s brave, creative, and loving, knowing that she is, literally, her son’s whole world.
Second, Donoghue has done an excellent job thinking through how things would appear to a child whose only exposure to the “real” world is through the limited amount of television he’s allowed to watch. Some of his observations are funny, some poignant, but most ring true. She has invented a language structure for the boy, which for me was unnecessarily juvenile, but it didn’t get in the way of my interest and enjoyment in the story.
Third, and this was important to me, the details of Old Nick’s visits are alluded to, but not described in any detail. As adults, we know what’s going on, but it’s clear that Ma has protected Jack from the more horrifying realities of their life inside “Room”.
I can’t give you many more specifics without giving away the plot, but this was worth reading simply for its originality and the warm relationship between mother and son. Not sure that it’s actually Booker Prize material, but I guess we’ll know on October 12!