Room by Emma Donoghue

Tuesday, January 11, 2011



I hold on to her hand. She wants me to believe so I'm trying to but it hurts my head. "You actually lived in TV one time?"

"I told you, it's not TV. It's the real world, you wouldn't believe how big it is." Her arms shoot out, she's pointing at all the walls. "Room's only a tiny stinky piece of it."

"Room's not stinky." I'm nearly growling.

By now, there will be very few of you who have not heard of this book. It has featured in almost every award nomination, and has been on so many reading lists, that my thoughts on it will only add to an already swollen review database.

Room by Emma Donoghue explores the possible consequences of an abduction and a child born in "captivity". Emma sets out to create a tightly isolated environment in which the child grows up - never seeing the world outside or another human being, with the exception of his own mother and her abductor. And then, she proceeds to show how escape can mean different things to the mother and her son.


I'm sure you have heard this before - Jack's voice took me a while to get used to. It's not just the fact that the narrator is a five-year old. It has more to do with Jack's vocabulary and naming system. He occasionally used words I wouldn't expect to hear from a five-year old, and sometimes speaks like a child much younger than himself. He saw every object in his room as a proper noun - Rug, Bed, Plant, Duvet, Skylight, Wardrobe, etc. He had conversations with these objects, and far from sounding cute, that actually scared me a bit.

From Jack's perspective, there is no outside world. There is just Ma, himself and Ma's abductor. And then there's TV. Each time Ma's abductor comes to their Room at night to rape her, Jack sleeps in Wardrobe, which is his "bedroom". When I started the book, I was quite curious about how they spent each day. Didn't they tire out due to lack of things to do? Did they even have enough entertainment to last a day? Emma spends considerable time showing Ma and Jack's routine for one day - breakfast, games, TV, lunch, nap time, exercise, cooking, etc. I have to admit I was surprised when the day just whizzed by. I was most impressed with Ma's creativity with inventing games for Jack's amusement. On weekdays, they play Scream, that is, they spend some time yelling at the top of their voices. Since Jack is narrating this, it took me a long time to understand why Ma invented such a game.

Once I understood the complex structure of Room that Emma has created, I began to wonder how Jack ever got Outside, and how he coped. I enjoyed the second part of the book more because once I understood Jack, it was far easier slipping into his mind. There were a couple of areas I strongly disagreed with because even for Jack, or rather especially for Jack, they seemed near impossible. But barring those events, the rest of the book felt very plausible. Jack's attachment to Room and hence his abhorrence to leaving Room was very understanding. And yet, to Ma (we only know her as Ma in this book), Room is a prison. Having hidden from Jack any hints about the existence of the outside world, Ma struggles to convince him about everything she has denied so far.

Room was definitely a different kind of read for me. Coming on the heels of Still Missing by Chevy Stevens, I found myself thinking of the latter more often than I wished to. Abduction for an extended period of time and the victims' pregnancy are probably the only similarities between them. They were however enough to tamper with my enjoyment of this book, and so I have a feeling that I will not be picking another abduction-themed book in a long time. However, it's not fair of me to taint this book's review by mentioning the similarities, because as I recollect it, I had plenty of issues with Still Missing, whereas Room was more a clever and innovative piece of writing. It is about abduction, but it is much more than that. I'm not too big into thrillers, the ones I read have to be different in some aspect, and Room definitely met those expectations.

My dear fellow-blogger, Danielle, sent me this book when she had an extra copy. Hugs, Danielle!

11 comments:

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I did like this one, but it took some getting use to with Jack narrating the first 50+ pages.

Helen's Book Blog said...

I read this book at the right moment for me so I really got sucked into it and devoured it very quickly. The characters still pops into my head sometimes.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Sounds haunting.

Great review :>

JessiKay89 said...

This sounds like one of those books that's difficult to read, but you can't stop--like watching a car accident. Great review!

StephTheBookworm said...

I STILL have to read this one, though I've been really wanting to!

bermudaonion said...

You're right - it takes a little while to adjust to this book, but once I did, I was hooked. Sure parts of it were a little stretch, but I took it for what it was and really enjoyed it.

Vishy said...

I am new to your blog, Aths, and it looks wonderful!

I enjoyed reading your review of 'Room'. 'Room' is one of my favourite books from last year and I really loved it. I loved the voice of Jack and the creative way Ma uses to keep him happy.

Thanks for this wonderful review!

mummazappa said...

I really loved this book, and loved Jack's narration. I was fascinated by their inner processes as they go from the first to second half of the book. I loved that it isn't sentimental and is just very realistic. I'd like to read Slammerkin since I've read Room and really liked ED's storytelling.

christa @ mental foodie said...

Agree with you. Read this soon after Still Missing, and couldn't help but compared the two. I enjoyed Ma's creativity too. I liked this one a little bit better than Still Missing.

Here's my review:
http://mentalfoodie.blogspot.com/2010/10/book-review-room-novel-by-emma-donoghue.html

Aths said...

Jess, that's a great way of putting it! You're right!

Vishy, thank you! Ma's creativity has definitely impressed me, too!

mummazappa, wasn't the transition from 1st to 2nd half fascinating? I really loved how well the first half laid the basis for the 2nd half!

Christa, I too enjoyed this one better than Still Missing. The latter felt a bit contrived to me.

Lisa said...

With the Elizabeth Smart case again in the news recently, this book seems to be very timely. I must borrow it from my mom soon but I'll know not to pick up Still Missing for a while!