Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

If you ask Jack, the 5-year-old little boy who narrates Emma Donoghue’s audacious 2010 novel, Room, life is grand. He’s got the whole world at his fingertips, at least the world he’s come to know.

Trapped in an 11-by-11-foot room since the day he was born (there’s a spot on the rug that “marks” the occasion), he and Ma, his 26-year-old mother, live day in and day out in a soundproofed shed in the backyard of their captor’s house. A man Jack and Ma refer to as Old Nick, kidnapped, rapped imprisoned and impregnated Ma seven years earlier. Now, she’s left to raise her smart, inquisitive son under the constraints of this hellish lifestyle.

Tough stuff.

Donoghue’s brave decision to give herself such tight quarters to play with is admirable. The entire first half of the book takes place in the room where mundane tasks – bedtime stories, bathtub time, breast-feeding! – are novelized and made to sound interesting. She also pulls off another daring feat by telling an adult-themed story through the eyes of a child. At first, Jack’s childish jargon and uneven cadence is a bit off-putting and hard to digest. But it eventually becomes second nature and washes over you the more you become captivated by his warm, bubbly spirit.

What Donoghue does best is juxtapose Jack’s upbeat personality with Ma’s feigned happiness and internal struggle to remain optimistic. And it’s both enthralling and sad to see Ma succumb to her emotions and isolate herself for days at a time, leaving Jack to fend for himself.

Eventually, the two are freed from captivity and left to face a whole new challenge: life on the outside. There’s a family reunion, media frenzy, Jack’s first mall trip, psychiatrists and a plethora of other outside world events that will make you wonder if the real world measures up to the one Jack has come to read about in books, watch on cartoons and see in rap videos.

Room is not an easy read. It will leave you with some tough questions to answer. And wondering if the ending was Donoghue’s attempt at a full circle moment or a schmaltzy choice that somehow doesn’t live up to the book it concludes.

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  • Wow I suggested this book to my old book club and everyone liked it but it does leave you with several questions, like what if and why. The breastfeeding part totally threw me off!!!

  • Urbane Urbanite

    @Special K: I know folks that love "Room" and I know some folks that HATE it! It's just one of those kind of books. And yes, the breastfeeding was so awkawrd to read. Something about the way she worded it, made it feel more taboo than I think it should have been. *Shudders!*

  • One of the most touching books I've ever read, Room is very poignant. The most ingenious tool used by the author is the narration. The whole story is narrated by the child himself, and how he sees the "world" around him. The innocence is very touching.
    Though sometimes the book may seem to drag on, but the end effect is simply fabulous.