Room by Emma Donoghue

Room by Emma Donoghue

Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2010

Shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize.  Borrowed from the library.

Wow.  Room is one of the most initially disturbing and unusual books I have read in a long time.  The story, told by five-year-old Jack,  is about a young women who has been kidnapped and forced to live in a twelve by twelve foot room. In this room she gives birth to her son and raises him in the best way she can think of.  In the beginning the story had me feeling claustrophobic and very uncomfortable, I almost put it down.   Donoghue’s skill, her ability to “be” Jack, is what made me stick with it.  At times writing this book must have been difficult.

We have our cereal and brush teeth get dressed and water Plant.  We try and fill Bath but after the first bit the water comes out all icy so we just wash with cloths.  It gets brighter through Skylight only not very.  TV doesn’t work too,  I miss my friends.  I pretend they’re coming on the screen, I pat them with my fingers.  Ma says let’s put on another shirt and pants each to be warm, even two socks on each foot.  We run Track for miles and miles and miles to warm us up, then Ma lets me take off the outside socks because my toes are all squished.  “My ears hurt,” I tell her.
Her eyebrows go up.
“It’s too quiet in them.”
“Ah, that’s because we’re not hearing all the little sounds we’re use to, like the heat coming on or the refrigerator hum.” From page 76.

Part of  the strength of this book is the personification of special objects, the way Ma’s instinctive protection of Jack makes all things inside Room part of their “family” and everything outside unreal, as if what’s out there are props in some kind of surreal puppet show.

I know there has been intense discussion about this book.  It seems people either love it or hate it.  Some question Donoghue’s use of real life events as the basis for her novel, but authors have always written from life.   People have always told stories about other people. Stories are one of the ways we learn to put ourselves into different perspectives, to gain understanding and empathy.  Over time stories have help change human consciousness.  I find Emma Donoghue’s ability to place the point of view of her novel into the mind of a five-year old boy quite stunning, and greatly admire her for it.

Other reviews:


Farm Lane Books

Jenny’s Books (Guest Review)

Reading Matters

S. Krishna’s Books

Savidge Reads

The Written World


Filed under CanadianBookChallenge4, ContemporaryFiction, Review

25 responses to “Room by Emma Donoghue

  1. farmlanebooks

    This is my favourite book of the year so far so I’m really pleased to see that it wowed you too. It does seem to divide opinion, which I think is a sign of quality ;-) I’m looking forward to trying some of her older books now.

  2. I’ve heard such good things about this one. It’s definitely on my wishlist to read as soon as I can.

  3. I finished this book several days ago, and I still haven’t gotten past my first paragraph in writing the review. It was absolutely brilliant! Disturbing as hell when you know things that are going on that aren’t apparent to Jack. The sad fact that while this boy is so intelligent yet can’t walk up and down stairs, or have conversations with anyone but his mother. It truly was one of the most unique things I’ve read in a long time.

  4. Ti

    I’ve been working myself up to reading this. I am not squeamish in any way or overly sensitive to certain topics but I’d say that kidnapping, one involving a child is probably not a story I’d seek out on my own. BUT, I do feel as if I must read this one. Everyone is talking about it and although there are mixed reviews, it’s generated conversation which is what a book should do.

    • Ti – Room is intense but understated and very subtle. It kind of sneaks up on you and sort of softens the emotional impact, if that makes sense. I think it is brilliant.

  5. Erin

    I haven’t gotten to this book yet, but I keep seeing positive reviews. I really need to get to it soon!

  6. I loved this book! Definitely one of my top books this year. I was a little bummed that it didn’t win the Booker.

    • I haven’t read all the books on the Booker short list so I don’t have an opinion on that one yet. I did love Room. The more I think about it the more it impacts me.

  7. I’ve been hesitant to pick this up… sounds too disturbing for my tastes. Still, everyone seems to love it.

    • JoAnn – Room is very subtle which softens the emotional impact somewhat. I am in awe of Donoghue’s ability to express Jack’s point of view.

  8. I think it would be hard for me to read this one- having small children of my own makes it appear too upsetting- but the more reviews I read of it the better and better it sounds.

  9. I’m a big fan of this book. Had it not been told from the point of view of Jack it wouldn’t have been as powerful or as disturbing.

  10. Terrific review! I’m a little late getting over here…but thank you for the link love as well :) I’ve added a link to your review at the bottom of my review ;)

  11. I personally thought this book was fantastic – creepy, scary and disturbing, but fantastic! However, I thought Donoghue’s genius was writing it from the point of view of a five year old, as the innocence makes the book a lot more humane – I don’t think I would have been able to deal with reading the book from the mother’s perspective. Would’ve been too harrowing!

    • I completely agree. Telling this story from Jack’s point of view does make the book more humane, it softens the emotional impact. I am loving Donoghue’s skill as a writer more each day and want to read more of her work.

  12. I did end up reading this in spite of my firm intentions not to, and I was really impressed by the writing of the kid’s voice. And I was very impressed at how well the mother raised the kid, with the exercise and everything….I feel like I would not have been so clever and resourceful if I were in the same situation.

  13. I don’t know, Jenny. I think we are often more strong and resourceful under stress than we think we will be. I’m glad you enjoyed the book.

  14. Pingback: My Favorite Books of 2010 | Page247

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