Jack is five. He lives in a single, locked room with his Ma.
This blurb should tell you what the premise is. Note the present tense used.
In the beginning, for the first hundred pages, all we get is the frame-by-frame, second-by-second relay of things that Jack and Ma do in their time in Room.
How they brush their teeth, what they eat for breakfast, what time they eat lunch, how many teeth Jack has etc. And these things happen over and over again, and we readers are exposed to every second of it.
It gets tiresome.
Linearity without any relief like change of scenes, or change in Point-of-view is laborious. But it is in line with the theme here : holed-up one-roomedness.
It is claustrophobic for me.
Ironically, it is the entirety of Jack’s world.
Jack names all his stuff, and literally forms relationships with his Truck, Remote, Bed, Eggshell snake etc. It was cute, endearing and slightly nostalgic ( I was an only child, and with no siblings to play with, I named my playthings ).
For Jack, Ma is the only real person ( as opposed to TV persons and Old Nick ) apart from himself. Ma is a young woman with the biggest responsibility – raising a child with literally nothing.
Ma turns out to be Super-Ma as the story advances.
Ma’s originality and resourcefulness is exceptional. Finding creative ways to teach her son about the world while managing his tantrums is one helluva feat. Her resilience and strength make me wonder what her source is. Maybe it’s the secret reserve from where mothers get extraordinary powers to protect their babies.
Here’s a peep into what all I felt while I was reading the novel:
The narrative drips innocence – both Ma and boy alike. I know I just said this was an innocent narrative, but that doesn’t mean that this is a light read. It certainly isn’t.
Because we have to be prepared to read about cruelties of life from a little boy’s POV. Jack’s questions put humanity to shame.
“In the world I notice persons are nearly always stressed and have no time…I don’t know how persons with jobs do the jobs and all the living as well…I guess the time gets spread very thin like butter all over the world, the roads and houses and playgrounds and stores, so there’s only a little smear of time on each place, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit.”
“This is a bad story.”
“Sorry. I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have told you.”
“No, you should,” I say.
“I don’t want there to be bad stories and me not know them.”
“I’ve seen the world and I’m tired now.”
In addition to his grueling honesty, Jack sometimes drops a bomb on us by claiming his ‘penis floats in the bath’ or he ‘counts the squeaks Bed makes when Old Nick comes’ or ‘Silly Penis is always standing up in the morning. I push him down’. And that’s just weird.
Because of this, I was confused most of the times. I didn’t know what voice to assign to this kid. Innocence? Excitement? Curiosity? Adult-stuck-in-a-child? Which of these?
Narrative-wise, I found a strong resemblance to ‘The Curious Incident of the dog in the nighttime’ ; both boys had the same gobby, rudimentary way of speaking; both the novels were written in first person; both the stories are emotionally heavy and dark, with a splatter of innocence.
- Pulls you into the story (after the initial 100 pages)
- Makes you cry
- Makes you question life in different ways – Are those new jeans absolutely necessary? Do you take your living space for granted? What if you grew up not knowing what’s outside, would you still be You?
- Has strong characters
- Has a poignant ending
- Does the opposite job of a book : confines you, instead of liberating you.
- Makes you think your life is a luxury
- Makes you cry
- Has unnecessary verbification like so : ‘Hot’ on the stove. The air is shiverier. Magicked.
The difference between prison and room? Prison is kinder.
I think that this book was written to evoke emotions like despair, solidarity , imprisonment and abandonment and engulfment in the reader. Jack is unaffected by any of these.
This is a book you can’t finish in one sitting. In fact, don’t sit in one place when you read this book. My advice is to read this book when you’re travelling or moving around. It is that powerful.
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak : A review
- The Crown of Ptolemy by Rick Riordan: A review
- The Subtle Knife [His Dark Materials #2] by Philip Pullman: A review
- River God by Wilbur Smith : A review