Every now and again, a wonderful book comes out and, somehow, I manage to miss it. When Room was released in 2010, I put it on my long-list of books to read and promptly forgot about it. Lucky for me, Picador rereleased this one a month or so ago as part of their 40th anniversary editions and a few copies happened to be very prominently displayed at the Dymocks store in Rundle Mall. (Speaking of, my brother visited the big Dymocks in Sydney on the weekend. I'm so jealous.) Anyway, when I purchased a copy of Room the sales staff could not praise the book highly enough. And when I read the book, it was not difficult to see why.
Room is narrated by Jack, a five-year-old whose entire world is a small confined space that he calls Room, which contains a bed, wardrobe, kitchen and television. The only people he knows is his mother, who he affectionately calls Ma and an white haired man he calls Old Nick. Old Nick comes and goes from Room, bringing Ma and Jack various supplies and to, as Jack puts it, creak the bed. Ma never allows Jack to get too close to Old Nick. Jack is to hide in the wardrobe whenever he hears Old Nick beep the door. Far from being unhappy with this situation, Jack believes that Room is all that exists. The images that he sees on television are not real. And then one day, Ma shares with him a terrible secret and the pair hatch a plot to escape ...
What makes this book so wonderful is the innocent way that the story is told. The story itself is horrific, with a number of parallels with the Fritzl case in Germany or the abductions of Sabine Dardenne in Belgium and Natasha Kampusch in Austria. (Ma was in her late teens when she was abducted.) Somehow, Ma has shielded Jack from the horrors that occurred inside Room, to the point that he has a lot of difficulty adjusting to the outside world when he is freed. Jack has grown up innocent from gender stereotypes (for example, he happily chooses a pink bag as a present from his uncle,) and commits numerous faux pas during his first trip to the mall and the playground, etc. With the exception of Ma, the adults in his life struggle to understand this boy, or why he would feel homesick for the only home he has ever known, Room. Fortunately, as his grandmother and step-grandfather (Steppa) help him to adjust to this new and frightening world. The story ends with Ma and Jack visiting Room one last time. Then and only then can Jack begin to let go of the past and accept his new world.
I thought that Room was a well-written book. It was difficult for me to put the book down, though the prose (written how a five year old might speak,) took some getting used to. Highly recommended.