If Room remained purely claustrophobic throughout, Ms. Donoghue and her reader might tire of Jack’s version of events, not to mention Jack’s bubbly cheer. So it’s fortunate that this novel has the dramatic turning point that it needs. Eventually the spell is broken: Jack and Ma are freed. They can leave Room behind, but they’ll have to make Outer Space their new home … Ms. Donoghue makes the gutsy and difficult choice to keep the book anchored somewhere inside Jack’s head. So anything that happens to his mother is filtered through his fear, love and curiosity about her. And when the book presents him with a cavalcade of new experiences, everything Jack sees must be measured against the strangely idyllic time that he spent inside Room.
Jack’s voice is one of the pure triumphs of the novel: in him, she has invented a child narrator who is one of the most engaging in years — his voice so pervasive I could hear him chatting away during the day when I wasn’t reading the book. Donoghue rearranges language to evoke the sweetness of a child’s learning without making him coy or overly darling; Jack is lovable simply because he is lovable … There’s a lot to manage — the external, vivid, social world is a huge and gratifying resource here, and Jack’s eyes remake the familiar. It is invigorating, watching him learn, and the way Donoghue reveals the consequences of Room through her attention to detail is tremendous.
Room is being described as stunning, insightful, feminist: instead, I find that it sustains some of our culture’s worst assumptions about the bonds between mother and child, and about the shame that attends female sexual violation … It isn’t just the narrative’s exhausted ideas about the mother/child bond that get under my skin, it’s also that Room mimics a prurient gaze that it clearly thinks of itself as undoing, and does so at the level of its artistic and formal techniques...The novel uses the limited perspective of a child to enact, basically, a striptease: the novel knows that we are fascinated with women’s sexual abuse, but uses the child’s apparent innocence to allow us plausible cover for our staring.
While the story is sometimes terrifying, Donoghue consistently de-emphasizes Old Nick, a strategy that reflects Jack's limited perspective but also demonstrates that she has no intention of trafficking in the sexual charge of abduction thrillers. Instead, the novel stays focused on Jack's elemental pleasures and unsettling questions … For such a peculiar, stripped-down tale, it's fantastically evocative … Not too cute, not too weirdly precocious, not a fey mouthpiece for the author's profundities, Jack expresses a poignant mixture of wisdom, love and naivete that will make you ache to save him -- whatever that would mean.
To read this book is to stumble on a completely private world. Every family unit has its own language of codes and in-jokes, and Donoghue captures this exquisitely. Ma has created characters out of all aspects of their room – Wardrobe, Rug, Plant, Meltedy Spoon … In the hands of this audacious novelist, Jack's tale is more than a victim-and-survivor story: it works as a study of child development, shows the power of language and storytelling, and is a kind of sustained poem in praise of motherhood and parental love.
[Jack’s] quirky, bright and, yes, happy voice is the book's best and most imaginative element. It's fascinating to see him process a universe limited to the tiny space he shares with his mother, a few books, their established routines and selected TV shows … The real problem with Room: After Ma and Jack leave the room, Jack's unique voice gets muted because Donoghue starts crafting melodramatic plot twists to illustrate the bad things in the world outside 'room.' Ma goes from being a character into a mouthpiece on societal issues like the many U.S. prisoners kept in solitary confinement.
The conceit of Room, after all, is to unfold slowly, piece by piece. This is one reason to have a child narrate the novel: to connect us with a mind of which we are not completely certain, so that we need to decode the voice and the story it tells … Clearly, Donoghue means to dramatize the back story of every fairy tale: the cautionary saga, the darkness at the center of the world. But if Room vividly evokes these dangers, it is, in the end, too limited in its point of view.
Donoghue's utterly gripping plot may sound as if it has been ripped from headlines, but there's real art here. What elevates Room from a prurient horror story to an exploration of parental love and childhood development and a fresh look at our culture of glut is Donoghue's decision to have 5-year-old Jack narrate … With each new thing Jack needs to sort out – stairs, shoes, money, fire, rain, vaccines, paparazzi hungry for glimpses of ‘Bonsai Boy’ – Donoghue makes us see our exhausting, overstuffed world in a glaring new light. But it's Jack's baffled, moving response to his mother's difficulties as she struggles to re-establish her independence, separate even from him, that packs the final punch.
An emotionally draining read, yet at the same time impossible to put down, it has all the makings of a modern classic. Donoghue’s inventive storytelling is flawless and absorbing. She has a fantastic ability to build tension in scenes where most of the action takes place in the 12-by-12 room where her central characters reside … Though Donoghue adequately captures the under-developed speech patterns, phrasing, and conceptualization of a kindergarten-age protagonist (not to mention one who has never had formal schooling), she is careful not to make Jack’s narrative voice cutesy or irritating...an innately intelligent boy, his curiosity about life outside of Room is what propels the story along.
An ugly incident after Jack attracts Old Nick’s unwelcome attention renews Ma’s determination to liberate herself and her son; the book’s first half climaxes with a nail-biting escape. Donoghue brilliantly shows mother and son grappling with very different issues as they adjust to freedom … Wrenching, as befits the grim subject matter, but also tender, touching and at times unexpectedly funny.
How do you write about abduction and imprisonment, torture and violence, nastiness that is uncomfortably close to truth, without being exploitative? Donoghue’s narrator has extraordinary resilience, and a useful innocence … Overall, Jack emerges as too perfect a narrative voice, a kitschified child wonder. The book leaves us with him and Ma in a home of their own, a content child with his name on his bedroom door. It would be more interesting to meet up with him again in ten years time, typically when post-traumatic stress disorders begin to manifest, and discover how he deals with his conflicting worlds then. Instead, the sustained childlike worldview acts like a hermetic seal on their experience.
The key to counteracting the seemingly inevitable prurience of the story is Donoghue's decision to let Jack tell it … Outside ends up seeming more bizarre than the world within. Donoghue's description of the experience of release from captivity is well done (and based on research from the real cases), but it cannot measure up to the magic of the story before Ma and Jack leave Room. This dark and beautiful fairy tale about the parent-child relationship is what you'll never forget.