Author: Emma Donoghue
By Mae Anthony
Room is the seventh novel by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue. Released in 2010, it was inspired by one of the children of the Fritzl Case, in which a 42-year-old Austrian woman escaped after having been held captive by her father for nearly twenty-five years in a seal-locked room in the basement. She bore seven children to him after being sexually and physically abused for nearly 20 years. Many of the details have been changed, but the core of the story remains the same – a woman held captive in a room, left to wither away and look after a child, who is essentially collateral damage.
Room arrested my attention within the first ten pages; I found myself staring wide-eyed whilst reading it, horrified by the image-provoking language, and awakened to a view of the world I had never seen before. I knew what the book was about before reading it, having heard briefly of it and having read the blurb, but I don’t really know what I was prepared for. Not this. Not in the slightest.
I had no pre-conceived notion that the story would be told from the child’s perspective, but I was instantly intrigued by the way the little world of the room was established, and how the realities of that world slowly unfolded into a horrifying nightmare.
You find yourself accustomed to the surroundings of the room, to the routine, the familiarity of the space. You yourself soon become part of the furniture.
You’re not just afraid for the characters as you follow them through their everyday lives, which at first seem normal: doing the dishes, reading, cooking food, playing games. But all of a sudden it can flip and they’re in grave, life-threatening danger and it becomes a severe hypertension episode-inducing situation to imagine someone in.
The focus of the novel is on the child and his mother who both have two very different, yet equally distorted, views of their world. They make up two perspectives of the room, that of the child who does not see the room for what it is (a cramped, mouldy, smelly, feral den, hidden away, and off the map) and the mother who is trapped in Hell on Earth. These two parallel worlds align in this small room, and make you wonder how these two enigmatic paradoxes could possibly exist. It is an eerie, heartbreaking insight into the rare and devastating events of the kinds of travesties that have been discovered in recent years.
Frankly, this book is not for the faint hearted. Like thick black smoke, it’s suffocating and terrifying. It’s gruesome and bleak. It possesses only one redeeming (barely) silver-lining in that it highlights how far people can be pushed and buried under the rubble of devastation, only to – with great admiration – somehow emerge, not unscathed, but still alive. Donoghue has done this story – one of many shapes, narrations, and varying details as it reflects real-life events – true justice as far as highlighting the horror underpinning the survivors of such barbarous acts.