Saturday, September 11, 2010


Jack is the storyteller. He is five and lives in ‘Room’ with his ‘Ma’.He has no concept of the outside world, believing it to be a fantasy seen on television. What Jack cannot vocalise in his five-year-old voice and mind is that he and his mother are being held captive in Room by the man he calls ‘Old Nick’.

A novel that was inspired, if that can ever be the right word in this case, by the utterly shocking Fritzl case in Austria is never going to be anything other than controversial, disturbing, mind-bendingly unbelievable but yet, though all of these things Room is also gentle and sweet, tender and joyous, uplifting and raw and real.

Whatever Jack cannot say, the reader’s overburdened imagination can either piece together from his accounts of his mother’s conversation, or add to from the prolific media coverage the Fritzl case generated.

The feat, for many, in picking up and reading Room is that the horrendous real life events that this book is based upon may be too upsetting and disturbing to read. I can categorically say this fear should be dismissed immediately. Firstly, a fear of reading something so shameful about the human race should never be reason for not learning about the horrors our fellow man has perpetrated, but even more convincing an incitement for sceptical readers should be a reassurance that this book is not at all horrific. It is so surprisingly hopeful, and joyous. It strips away all the extraneous unnecessary external factors from one boy to reveal a human being as he is, without the influence of the world on him, in all his innocence and, conversely, his wisdom.

It is only in the outside world, when Jack and Ma escape from Room that the horrors become evident. In Room, they were somehow protected from the understanding of what was going on through a lack of any real experience of life to compare it to. Half-way through the book, when they are released and brought into the real, or surreal world, is when the real horror starts. To read about a young boy terrified by seatbelts and rain drops, people touching him and strange food is discomforting and upsetting, but, it’s important. This didn’t happen to Jack, but it did happen to a real little boy out there in the world and, others too, and they deserve their stories to be known.

As for the book itself, leaving the actual story aside, it is – to my mind- a complete triumph. A mastery of language and pace, a display of control and attention to every single word. It is more technically adept that anything that I have read in years and a magnificent accomplishment for that alone.

It is an incredible story, filled with wonder. It is important and significant and brilliantly executed. It is brave and powerful and subtle and touching.

Read it, it will stay with you.

Review by Emma Walsh of Walsh Communications

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