Room and Outside, circa 2008
Room for Two
The first half of the book takes place in Room. It's, well… it's a Room. It's in the backyard of a kidnapper's house, and it's where the kidnappers has held a girl for seven years. To her, it's a prison. To Jack, her son, it's the entire world. (Read more about Room on our "About the Title" page.) Room is separated from Outside (i.e., the whole rest of the world) by Door, which is made of "shiny magic metal" (1.72). It's locked by a special keypad and only Old Nick, the kidnapper, knows the code.
At World's End
When Ma's escape plan works in the second half of the book, she and Jack find themselves in the Outside world. We're not sure exactly which city they're in, but they're definitely in a city filled with tall buildings, many playgrounds, and a large mental healthcare Clinic. But we're not even sure what country we're in. Grandma has a lot of U.S. state quarters in her purse, but Jack calls his butt a "bum" (3.717) and someone calls him a "lad" (4.1368), which makes it sound like they're on the other side of the Atlantic. (Perhaps Ireland, where Emma Donoghue is from?)
We're a little more confident in pinning down the time period. Jack knows who Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and Kanye West are, which puts us into at least 2008. And Ma doesn't know what YouTube or Facebook are until she gets out of Room, so she could very well have been kidnapped in 2001 or 2002. By the time Jack is five, it's at least in the late 2000s.
Jack lives in a few different rooms in the Outside world. He and Ma stay at The Cumberland Clinic, and Jack gets some space to himself at Grandma's house. The most important room, though, may be his own bedroom, which belongs to him and to him alone, which he gets when Ma moves into her own apartment at the end of the book.
The complex Ma moves to is called Independent Living, a place where Ma can live independently from the Clinic, and, in a brilliant move of double meaning (nice job, Emma Donoghue) Jack and Ma can learn to live independently from each other in separate rooms.
Let's just hope it's rent-controlled, too.