It’s Jack’s fifth birthday, which he will celebrate with his friends, Rug, Meltedy Spoon, Remote and TV. And his Ma, of course. She lets Jack watch plenty of TV today. TV always has plenty of interesting things to show Jack – things happening on planets other than Room.
Room isn’t a planet, of course, it’s just a room. A soundproofed room with an unassailable deadlock. To Jack this is indeed an entire world (the only one he has ever known), but to his mother, kidnapped and imprisoned many years before whilst still a student, she remembers there is more to life than this. But she decides to keep the truth from Jack because he might never need to know. She fears they might never escape from the man who comes to ‘creak the bed’, as Jack thinks of it, the man she despises in every way but one – that he gave her Jack.
Sometimes Ma just needs to be Gone for a while. Jack doesn’t really mind. An innately social creature, he has made friends out of everything. Brought up with an understanding of his surroundings confused and muddled by the blurred lines in cartoons on television (where a rug might indeed talk back), he might never be able to cope in the real world. But he’s going to find out.
Jack’s innocent but unintentionally bizarre observations make this a surprisingly funny novel, given its plotline. At times he comes across as a bit of a faux naïf, casting a light on the ignored oddness in the way we live our lives, but with no greater point to make.
At other times – and in one sucker-punching scene (which finally revealed something that may not have gone over this reader’s head had I been a woman, it did occur to me) in particular – his obliviousness to strange things that of course don’t seem strange to him highlights the consequences and dangers of social isolation. His concept of the world is entirely skewed through the dearth of human contact, with nobody to challenge, question or correct his assumptions, even only by observation on his part.
Some plot points stretch credulity a little far, but they are just minor, fleeting and forgivable contrivances to give Jack’s story a spine. The novel belongs to him, far more so than his mother. She may be a victim, but Jack is not. And that is entirely down to the lies she’s told him to protect him.