The narrator of “Room,” written by Emma Donoghue, is Jack, a five-year-old boy who has spent his entire life, accompanied by his mother, in a windowless backyard shed measuring 11’ x 11’. There is a small skylight which allows the sun to peak through at times. Ma (we never learn her name) was abducted when she was a nineteen-year-old college girl, and has been living in the shed ever since. Her abductor was a much older man whom she did not know. She and Jack refer to him as “Old Nick.” He only comes at night, bringing groceries, or a Sunday treat, or to take out the garbage. Jack hides in the wardrobe when he comes, but can hear the squeaks of the bed, which he counts each time.
A Backyard Shed - Wikimedia
Jack is very bright, and Ma has taught him everything he knows. He uses words like forgetted, growed up, God’s yellow face (the sun), the tall (the height), switch off (go to sleep), fasterer, hotting up (turning the stove on), the why (the reason), and many more.
They always referred to the shed where they lived as Room. There was also Bed, Table, Rocker, Mirror, Watch, Shelf, Toothpaste, which were all referenced without the adjective “the.” They did “Phys Ed” every day, making up games where they would run around their little Room, do push-ups, and jump on the bed to stay in shape. They both read books which Old Nick brought to them as a Sunday treat when they asked. Ma taught Jack many songs which they enjoyed singing. They had a television set, and Jack loved to watch “Dora the Explorer” and “Sponge Bob Square Pants.” Ma limited the time they spent watching TV because it would “rot our brains.”
Although he was already five years old, Jack spoke often of “getting some,” meaning that Ma still breastfed him. It was a bonding mechanism in addition to providing healthy food for Jack. Ma lived only for Jack’s happiness and to teach him all that his five-year-old mind could grasp.
Jack’s Limited Knowledge
Jack had no idea what the Outside was like. Everything in their little home was “real,” but what they saw on television, to Jack, was not real. He did not know that Old Nick kidnapped Ma, and that he was the result of being raped. He only knew that Ma did not like Old Nick. Ma learned just recently that he lost his job six months ago, and might lose his house which lies in front of their backyard shed. She now feared for their lives because Old Nick would never let them go free.
Author Emma Donoghue - Wikimedia
Plan of Escape
Now that Jack has turned five, Ma thought that they might be able to make their escape if Jack could follow her instructions. Plan A had Jack pretending he was sick and needed to see a doctor. Ma placed a very hot cloth on his head just before Old Nick came to simulate a high fever. Old Nick did not want to take Jack to the hospital; in fact, he refused. Plan B was a little more desperate. Jack had to pretend that he was dead, and Old Nick had to take him away in his truck and bury him someplace. Ma and Jack went over the plan many, many times so that Jack would know just what to do. She would wrap him tightly in a rug, which he would have to wiggle out of once he was in the truck, and then when the truck stopped for a red light, Jack had to jump off, run away, and find a stranger who could come and get Ma.
Luckily, Old Nick fell for the trick and took the rolled-up rug out to his truck. Jack was such a good student of his mother that he followed her directions to the letter. When the truck stopped at a traffic light, Jack had already partially wriggled out of the rug and then jumped off the truck and ran. A passing pedestrian listened to his plight and called the police. The police were able to locate the only house in the area that had a backyard shed. They were both free. The police caught up with Old Nick and he was carried off to jail, facing numerous charges which would likely lead to life imprisonment.
It had been seven years since Ma had contact with the outside world. The doctor who checked out Ma and Jack insisted that they wear face masks because they would be exposed to germs that their bodies were not familiar with. Ma was reunited with her mother, Nancy, and her mother’s new husband, Leo, whom they called Steppa. Ma’s father was less welcoming, as he could not accept Jack as his grandson. Ma overdosed on some of her pills and had to be taken to the hospital. Jack was placed under the care of Nancy and Steppa.
The Outside was all new to Jack. He had never had any interaction with people other than Ma, and on a limited basis, with Old Nick. He had to readjust his thinking that the one-dimensional people he watched on television were also real people who had real lives. Newspaper reporters and photographers were anxious to get a story, and Nancy and Steppa did their best to shield Jack from the press and from curious onlookers.
Nancy saw to it that Jack had new clothes and new toys, all of which were overwhelming to him. A trip to the toy store was a thrilling experience. When he needed to use the bathroom, he wanted to go back to Room where he felt comfortable. His grandmother had to introduce him to all the conveniences he would have at her house. Even the plates and cups and glasses, as well as the food, were new and needed getting used to.
Brie Larson plays Ma in the film "Room" - Wikimedia
One More Visit to Room
When Ma was released from the hospital, Jack had one request. He wanted to go back to Room. Ma took him back although the police had removed many of their belongings and had brought them to Nancy’s house. Jack thought Room looked awfully small. He was happy now to say goodbye to it. And he did. “Goodbye, Room.”
The Novel is Filmed
A film of “Room” has been made also and was released to audiences in October 2015. Because Emma Donoghue wrote the screenplay for “Room” also, the script stays very close to her novel. The film has been nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Motion Picture. Brie Larson was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture. A third Golden Globe nominee for the picture is author Emma Donoghue for Best Screenplay.
“Room” is a popular book this year for discussion by Book Clubs. My own Book Club has it on our list. I give it the highest recommendation.