I found this to be a somewhat amazing book. This review will contain lots of spoilers so if you have not read it, stop right now and run out to get your copy. It is the story of five year old Jack and his mother. They are living in a single room and have done so for the entire five years of Jack’s life. Initially you are not told why they are confined to this room, but as the story proceeds you learn the horrific truth – that Jack’s mother has been kidnapped, held and continually raped by his father. The story is told in Jack’s voice from his perspective as a precocious child. What an imaginative story it is! His persona is unfailing positive in the face of the threatening situation in which they live. I was blown away by the creativity and ability of this author to present the story in such a clever way. Jack’s mother works to provide a safe environment for him all the while teaching, training and generally entertaining him within the confines of the room. Jack is totally unaware of the outside world but is happy and contented within the room – “...I have thousands of things to do each day”.
While Jack is carefree and fun loving, the reader comes to realize the situation and the terrible fate that faces Jack and his mother. His mother is also aware of the threat to them, but successfully keeps Jack feeling safe. After a very threatening time – power is cut, food supply dwindling - Jack’s mother organizes an escape plan for them that relies on the five year old to perform some heroic feats. The suspense builds as the escape plan is hatched. This section of this book is as thrilling as any suspense novel I’ve read.
The last half of the book deals with Jack’s introduction to the outside world. While it is also well written and very entertaining it is not as riveting as the first half of the novel. His mother must deal with news media, changed family relationships and emotions that roller coaster up and down. Jack separates from the close relationship he has had with his mother and starts to develop as an independent person seeing himself as others see him. Jack’s experiences in learning about the outside world are funny and poignant. In the end mother and son seem to triumph over adversity. I thought the ending where they return to the room of their captivity (a shed in the kidnapper’s back yard) and decide they can go forward with their lives was a good one.
I really liked this book. I thought the author, Emma Donoghue, took a ripped from the headlines story (see Josef Fritzl) and ingeniously turned it into something special. Might be the best book I’ve read this year. This book was short listed for the Mann-Booker prize last week but alas did not win.