Bringing the horror of captivity to light

ABDUCTION and rape followed by long-term imprisonment in a tiny, rudimentary space seems to have become a phenomenon.


By Emma Donoghue

Picador 13.99

Review: Ailin Quinlan

Not long after monster Josef Fritzl’s conviction for imprisoning and raping his daughter Elizabeth for years – he had several children by her – we heard about the rescue of Jaycee Lee Dugard, who was held by her captor for 18 years and bore him two children.

Now we have Emma Donoghue’s hellish garden shed – a cleverly re-vamped space that has become home to five-year-old Jack, the narrator of this tale, and his intelligent, devoted, resourceful mother.

Abducted as an 18-year-old student and imprisoned for seven years, Ma is now fading in and out of a black depression.

Jack knows about the scary man, Old Nick, a Bluebeard-style psychopath, who visits at night for sex when Jack is safely hidden away in the wardrobe of the 11ft by 11ft room, and on whom the pair depend for food, light, heat and, really, for life itself.

When the novel begins, Jack is five and very excited about his birthday, for which he receives a drawing of himself by Ma.

Jack lives with his Ma in one room; a room which has a locked door and an electronic panel which beeps when their sole visitor enters.

He likes watching TV and the cartoon creatures he calls friends – but to him nothing he sees on the screen is true. His only reality is the room; his only experiences of the outdoor world the fresh air that blows in when the door opens, and the sun which shines for a few hours daily through their heavily reinforced skylight.

This room is a hellish world in which life revolves around heart-breaking make-and-do activities, imaginative exercises, word games, light cleaning, and the preparation of meals.

Nothing else is real, he thinks – until the unforgettable day his Ma sits him down to explain that there’s a whole world outside their room.

Around mid-way through the novel, Ma’s desperate, if somewhat incredible escape plan goes into action – and, against all the odds, succeeds, thrusting the pair into a new world of which Jack, endearing, devoted, loving and fiercely intelligent, has no knowledge or understanding.

Jack’s reports on the ‘Outside’ are fascinating; knowing more than he understands, his reports on the media’s handling of the case, the reaction of the police and those of his newfound extended family are extremely lucid.

This book is a winner, truly, simply, undeniably. It is a book about the powerful bond between mother and child. It is also a book about suffering, expectations and the sheer resilience of the human heart and mind.

To anyone who has read Room, it will come as no surprise that it has reached the Booker shortlist.


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