Book Case
No Easy Escape From This Room
Psychiatric News
Volume 46 Number 9 page 24-24


By Emma Donoghue

Little, Brown and Company

321 pages

"Jacker Jack" narrates a harrowing tale of love, anxiety, and fortitude in Emma Donaghue's novel Room. Through the voice of 5-year-old Jack, Donaghue creates a vivid image of a world filled with stark contrasts. Love, hate, hope, and despair characterize the emotions of Jack and his mother, not to mention the reader, as one experiences life for the two in one small room. While Jack loves his room and finds reassurance and dependency through inanimate objects such as Rug, Bed, and Room, his mother hates it. Nevertheless, she loves Jack and finds meaning in life and hope for a future through her son.

Jack joyfully describes his life as "easy peasy." Meanwhile, his mother feels trapped in the 11-by-11 space that has stifled her freedom. Still breast-feeding her son, "Ma" on the surface appears to have boundary issues, but she is actually a selfless character who struggles to meet the needs of her child in the most unusual of circumstances. Nevertheless, Ma's overwhelming desire for freedom causes a tremendous amount of separation anxiety for her son when he is separated from the objects that for years created an illusion of security and dependability for him.

Without revealing details of the book's suspenseful plot, readers should know that Room evokes feelings of confinement, confusion, and resentment. This is accomplished through Ma's neurotic usage of projective identification as a much-needed defense mechanism. This novel highlights the blurry lines defining closeness and autonomy. As the story unfolds, the reader is introduced to other people. Jack's belief system and knowledge of the world are turned upside down, while his mother strives to reclaim her own identity. Jack is forced to grapple with the concept of being a separate entity from his mother. Ma's own conflicts in their new world prohibit her from providing Jack with much needed mirroring and reassurance.

Both Jack and Ma will resonate with readers on multiple levels. The New York Times named Room one of the top-10 best books of 2010. Donaghue has successfully penned a tale that is rich in psychological, sociological, and political meaning. Room is a modern thriller filled with psychodrama that psychiatrists will thoroughly enjoy inhabiting alongside the resilient characters who learn there is more to life outside. 24_2.inline-graphic-1.gif


  • Helen M. Farrell, M.D., is a forensic psychiatry fellow at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine.

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