Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Review of Emma Donoghue's ROOM

By Kim

Synopsis (from the book jacket):

To five year old Jack, Room is the world. It’s where he was born, it’s where he and Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose Jack’s imagination – the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells, the imaginary world projected through the TV, the coziness of Wardrobe below Ma’s clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night in case Old Nick comes.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held since she was nineteen – for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But Jack’s curiosity is building alongside her own desperation – and she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer.

Photo by Nina Subin
About the author (from the book jacket):

Born in Dublin in 1969, Emma Donoghue is a writer of contemporary and historical fiction whose novels include the bestseller Slammerkin, The Sealed Letter, Landing, Life Mask, Hood and Stir-Fry. Her story collections are The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits, Kissing the Witch, and Touchy Subjects. She also writes literary history and plays for stage and radio. She lives in London, Ontario, with her partner and their two young children.


I have a five-year-old, and while she’s very observant and mature for her age I can’t imagine many adults would make it all the way through a novel told from her point of view. Though Room came highly recommended, I had my doubts that such a feat could be pulled off.

I was wrong.

If Jack and his Ma lived a normal life, letting him tell the story would never work, but Room is anything but a normal place. Had Ma been the narrator readers would spend the first half of the book trapped in the deepest level of hell and the last half perhaps two rungs higher. As much as I would’ve sympathized with Ma, I’m not sure I’d have had the fortitude to finish.

Through Jack’s eyes, however, Room is a magical world. On the surface, his simple recounting of the events of his birthday may seem tedious but innocent observations, such as the number of times he hears the bed creak during one of Old Nick’s visits, alert the reader as to the darker reality of the situation. The fact that Jack himself is safe in Wardrobe at the time and has no understanding of what his mother endures is a testament of her complete devotion to her child. I challenge any mother to read this novel and not be moved.

I made the mistake of reading pages 122-142 while my family was home. Three wide-eyed faces stared at me when I blurted out “Oh, my God, no!” and pulled my Jack-sized child onto my lap in a crazy yet instinctual attempt to protect a fictional boy. Half the book remained, so I knew on some level everything would work out, yet I was so caught up in Jack’s terror, seeing my daughter in his place, that I imagined all the things that could go wrong in graphic detail.

If you’re looking for a truly original story, and are open to being overwhelmed by every primal emotion – terror, love, hope and hate – gather your courage and enter Room. You won’t regret it.


  1. Coming out of Lurkdom to comment - I, too, loved this book. And the section you're talking about caused a similar reaction and moved me to tears! I love the POV - and although the book is of a weighty subject, I loved the hope and joy of a mother and her son. I've recommended it to many people!

    Happy Thanksgiving :)

  2. Hi Janet,

    Thanks for stopping by, and thanks also for pointing out that there IS a lot of hope and joy in ROOM.



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