Emma Donoghue, Room
The creepiest book of the year, with great doses of humanity
Emma Donoghue’s Room appeared on the literary landscape the way a UFO appears in New Mexico: an eerie, captivating, and totally foreign event. Narrated from the perspective of a five-year-old named Jack, the story takes place in a room occupied by just one other person, Jack’s 26-year-old Ma. The two do exercises, read books, complete art projects, play games and watch Lady Gaga videos on a television. They lead, in some respects, a normal existence.
But something is clearly amiss. For one thing, Jack and Ma never leave the room in which they live. Ma’s teeth are rotten, she falls into near-comatose depressions, and the power is apt to cut off abruptly, leaving Jack and Ma freezing and hungry. A person named Old Nick delivers groceries once a week, removes trash, and sleeps with Jack’s mother.
It is soon evident that Jack and Ma reside in a sort of prison, and the circumstances of their imprisonment unfold with chilly urgency as Room progresses. The story’s spookiness is leavened by Jack, who, like all children, is inquisitive and prone to humorous insights. When Ma throws eggshells in the trash after preparing French toast, Jack wonders whether the shells will turn into new eggs. When he spots rappers on television wearing sunglasses at night, he speculates that they do so because their eyeballs are sore. It is this ripple of wit and humanity that makes the terrors of Room so gripping. Long-listed for the Man Booker prize, Donoghue’s story is a hypnotic and, ultimately, a heroic tale.