But oh! how evocative the book is! The author has narrated the story from the perspective of Jack, the 5 year old. His entire life has been in the "Room". He describes his life as a happy one, where he sleeps in the Wardrobe, does Phys Ed on the Rug and with the Chair. He doesn't know of life outside, and his structured existence in the Room is a happy one, where his Ma is with him ALWAYS and engages him mentally and physically. He is creative, makes toys out of tins and toilet rolls and is happy. But Ma? Ma is certainly not happy, struggles with her knowledge of the outside world and the deep despair the room holds for her. But she is a great mother... the "mere paas maa hai" variety. She ensures that Jack learns to read and write, play, eat as well as they could and be physically and mentally occupied. She never really shows her despair, until a certain incident occurs.
Once they escape, the tables turn. Ma is certainly thrilled, but disgusted by the media interest and public speculation. As for Jack, everything outside is strange and new to him. He doesn't quite understand social niceties or the ways of the world - after all, all his life it consisted of only 2 other people, his Ma and Old Nick (the kidnapper). Some of his observations are funny, poignant and makes us question ourselves. In one instance, he notices the private parts of his cousin and reaches out to touch it. His aunt brushes his arm away, admonishes him, saying it is "private", then reaches out to wash the child herself. He wonders "if she touches it, why is it private?". Innocent questions about boundaries! Several such questions on white lies, parenting struggles, relationships and even billing systems in shops arise, each making us chuckle initially, building into questions and decisions on better parenting in our heads. In the end the reader is left wondering whether Jack was indeed better off in the Room or is the Outside world a good place for him?
The book is evocative, with a narrative that borders on the chilling (after all it is based on the famous Fritzl case). The reason the book resonates is the narrative through the eyes of a child, which is sometimes naive and innocent, and sometimes wise beyond his years. The plight is something one would not wish on one's most hated enemies, but the reality of such situations fills the reader with horror, even after their escape and their attempts to adjust to the real world.
'Hope springs eternal in the human breast' is the truest adage of all. After reading the book, I was touched, horror-struck, moved and tearful. But most of all, I realized (again) that parenting is not about buying out the entire Hamleys store for my son, but quality time AND quantity time doing different things with him (and the infant daughter!) Imagination doesn't have to stem from expensive items, just a plant and cup of water, or 100 pieces of cereal, or toilet rolls would do. And finally, that I would do just about anything (like the Ma in the book) to keep my son safe and happy. Knowingly or otherwise, we all set aside our disappointments and fears to help our children grow and thrive, irrespective of constraints. That holds true for all of us, isn't it?
Verdict: Strongly recommended.