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Bookend: Truth hurts but it's a good story

Kidnapped and hidden? Like that Austrian kid?

Like Elisabeth Fritzl in Austria and Jaycee Lee Dugard in America, the girl in Emma Donoghue's Booker-listed bestseller Room has been kidnapped and hidden.


It's what they call their little world. Five-year-old Jack and his mother, Ma, live in Room, among their friends -- Rug and Wardrobe (where Jack hides when the kidnapper Old Nick might come), and Meltedy Spoon and Lamp.

Oh, sad

Ma turns the lamp on and off at night, trying to signal through the skylight. They watch TV -- but not too much because it rots your brain -- they wash their hands, and wash their teeth after every meal.

Trying to be a good mother?

Making a pretty good fist of it too. But Jack -- though he's super-bright, has a huge vocabulary and understands a lot about the mysterious world outside, and everything about their own Room-world -- is a weird little kid.

They're in Room for the whole story?

No, halfway through they work out an escape plan. It's not spoiling the story to tell you this -- you can look forward to it, in fact. It's the best part of the book, sheer terror.

So they're happy then?

Ah no -- this is where Emma Donoghue -- a fabulous writer, this is her seventh book -- gets her teeth into western society. Ma and Jack become celebrities, in the same way Jaycee and Elisabeth did, and she agrees to go on TV.

Not so bad?

They need the money -- this is America; they have to pay for hospital, and have to save for their college fees. Ma was a 19-year-old student when she was snatched; now, at 27, she wants to study again.

So they're stars?

The media treat them like freaks: "The despot's victims appear to be in a catatonic state," one newspaper blared; the TV show host probes droolingly, is it true that Ma still breastfeeds Jack. "In this whole story," Ma asks mockingly, "that's the shocking detail?"

Eww! But they now have a family?

Kind of. Some of that is traumatic -- Jack's grandfather is sickened by the sight of him. Some is very funny, like Jack's first day out shopping with his uncle and cousins.

A buy?

A definite buy. A brilliant book, moving, true, funny, desolate and unmissable.

- Lucille Redmond