Room Summary

Emma Donoghue


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Room Summary

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Room (2010) a novel by Emma Donoghue, an Irish-Canadian author, was considered for the 2011 Orange Prize, and won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize regional prize within the Caribbean and Canada. It was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2010, and also for the 2010 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, as well as the 2010 Governor General’s Awards. The novel was adapted into a movie in 2015, with the star, Brie Larson, winning an Academy Award for Best Actress. Noteworthy themes include isolation, freedom, bonds with family, fear, love, and communication. The novel was written after Donohue heard about a now very famous real-life case, the Fritzl case. This took place in Austria, over the course of twenty-four years, and included a daughter being held captive and raped by her father, eventually bearing seven children.

Room is told from the perspective of a young boy, Jack. Jack lives with Ma in Room. Room is a single-room, standalone outbuilding, with a small kitchen, a bathtub, a wardrobe, bed, and TV set. Jack believes that the only “real” things are those inside the room; Ma tells him everything on their TV exists only on the TV. She is not willing to disappoint him with the life she cannot give him. Ma does the best that she can to keep her son happy and healthy. She instigates both physical and mental exercises; they keep a healthy diet, limit TV watching time, and maintain strict levels of body and oral hygiene. Jack’s entire world is this room and his mother. The only other person Jack has ever seen in his life is Old Nick, who only comes to visit Room at nighttime. When Old Nick visits, Jack is sent to hide in a wardrobe, and is sleeping by the time Old Nick arrives. Old Nick brings food and necessities. He is Ma’s captor and rapist of the past seven years, since she was nineteen. Jack is the product of one of these rapes, which continue regularly.

It is now a week after Jack’s fifth birthday. Ma has just learned that Old Nick has been unemployed for six months, and might be about to lose his home to foreclosure. Ma feels sure that Old Nick would rather murder the both of them before letting them go; she begins to make a plan for escape. Ma tries to explain to her son that he must pretend to be deathly ill, and although Jack has a very hard time imagining anything outside of Room, he is eventually convinced. Old Nick refuses to take Jack to the hospital, and then pretends that Jack has died. Jack lies still, wrapped in a rug, and Old Nick removes him from Room. Jack escapes and manages to find a friendly stranger who calls the police. Jack struggles with communication, but manages to direct the police to Ma.

Ma and Jack are taken away from Room to a mental hospital. Here, they receive medical evaluations and a temporary home. Old Nick is found, and will face numerous charges of abduction, rape, and child endangerment. He will most likely be found guilty, which will result in twenty-five years to life in prison. Ma is reunited with the rest of her family, and relearns how to interact with the world at large. Jack, however, is utterly overwhelmed, and wants nothing so much as to return to the safety and predictability of Room. The media has been attracted to this case like a cat to a mouse, which makes beginning a new, normal life even harder for Ma and Jack. Ma participates in a television interview, which goes very badly. She suffers a mental breakdown. She attempts suicide and is put back in the hospital. Jack is brought to live with his grandmother and her new partner. Suddenly he does not have even his Ma around him; Jack becomes extremely confused and frustrated by his surroundings. His new, extended family is well-meaning and loving, but do not have the right understanding or experience to raise Jack properly. They do not understand how his limited life experiences and concepts of personal boundaries influence his odd behaviour.

Eventually, Ma recovers and returns to Jack. She and Jack move into an independent living residence together, where they begin to slowly make plans for their future. Ma is growing more independent, but this conflicts with Jack’s desire to keep her all to himself, as she used to be in Room. Jack is also growing and learning and changing as he grows and the world around him becomes bigger. Jack asks one day to visit Room. He and Ma return to the place they were held captive so long ago, but Jack does not feel the same emotional attachment towards it. He is able to say his goodbyes and leave, moving on for good.