Thursday, January 27, 2011

Room, by Emma Donoghue--a review

Room, by Emma Donoghue, was one of those books I was afraid to pick up because I had heard just a tidbit about it: the book was about a five-year-old boy locked up in a single room, and it was from the boy's point of view. I have a rule about not reading books or seeing movies that feature children in peril. The subject is just too disturbing for me, so that's my rule.

However, I kept hearing about Room--that it was a wonderful book, that it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and that it was really original. So I broke my rule and bought it (on the iPad--the first book I've read in that format, by the way).

I'm happy I broke my rule, because I really enjoyed reading Room. The novel tells the story of 5-year-old Jack, who lives in one room with his mother, Ma. The reason they live there is that Ma was kidnapped when she was nineteen, and has been held prisoner in a specially-designed 12-foot-square back-yard shed by her captor, Old Nick.

I was wowed by Donoghue’s ability to effectively communicate the feelings, language and world of a five-year-old who was born and raised in captivity, cut off from society. I was drawn in, not just by the tension I felt about the danger Ma and Jack were in, but also by the intricacies of their world.

Spoiler alert—I’m sorry, I found I just couldn’t talk about this book without revealing some major plot points. If you really don't want to know what happens in the book, read no further. But I don't think knowing what happens spoils the book, so...

The first part of the book is about Jack and Ma’s captivity, and the tension and sense of dread builds really well as Ma realizes, and we realize, that there is no way mother and child will continue to survive in this situation as it is, and they have to attempt a daring escape plan. I was pleasantly surprised to find that a major portion of the story takes place after their dramatic escape, when they have to adjust to “Outside”.

While I was fascinated by the way Ma had created a routine that kept her sane and her son safe and healthy inside Room, I was even more interested in their life after captivity. I was so happy that Donoghue didn’t end the book when Jack and Ma escaped, but rather went on to explore what it meant for Jack to enter a huge, frenetic, bewildering world at the age of five, and how hard it was for Ma to reenter that world after seven years of being held prisoner.

Donoghue is spot on with the voices—obviously of Jack and the immensely sympathetic Ma, but also with Ma’s doctor, nurse, mother, brother, sister-in-law, father, and new stepfather. Each of these minor characters adds layers to the complexity of Jack’s adaptation to the big world outside, and to Ma’s difficulty dealing with her feelings of guilt and sadness.

I was pleasantly surprised by Room. I'm glad I got over my difficulties with the subject matter and went ahead and read it. It was an intense read, but very rewarding. It was one of those books I just couldn't put down--I know I stayed up far past my bedtime to finish it, and that's a rare thing for me these days. I'm looking forward to reading more of Emma Donoghue's work.

12 comments:

Ti said...

I just reviewed this book last week and I had a very different reaction to it.

Unfortunately it did not work for me at all. I felt it was a bit gimmicky and I don't feel that she really explored life on the outside and how it affected them.

Gentle Reader said...

Ti--I just read your review, and I get what you're saying. I didn't have the same reaction, but I've heard others say they were disappointed in the second section of the book as well. I wish my book group had read this one, because if nothing else, it would probably provoke a spirited discussion!

Bybee said...

I'm hoping that my book group will decide to read this one in the future.

Gentle Reader said...

Bybee--I think it would be a really good book group book--it can't help but spark a conversation!

Susan said...

I have been avoiding reading this one for the same reasons! So I read your post with curiosity. You've made me think that perhaps I can pick it up one day. I did avoid your spoiler bit since I still do want surprise. I own another of Emma's work, Kissing the Witch, which I think I will read first, and then get to Room. Thanks for the review!

Gentle Reader said...

Susan--Now I really want to read her earlier work. Let me know if you like Kissing the Witch!!!

Melissa Romo said...

I have the same rule (I am mom to two boys - ages 4 and 5 - and can't endure reading about children in peril), but also picked it up for many of the reasons you mentioned. I started to cry when Jack begged Ma for a dog because I hear the EXACT same plea almost daily from my 5-year-old son. I thought her voice of Jack was quite good, but what charmed me about the book was the amazing world and daily structure Ma created in that small room, so when they weren't there anymore, I lost interest. Still, a very ambitious work and worth reading.

suzain66 said...

Unfortunately it did not work for me at all. I felt it was a bit gimmicky and I don't feel that she really explored life on the outside and how it affected them.
K├╝stenpatent,

Danmark said...

Room is a book that requires intense emotional investment. That's all the warning I can give you about the story contained in this book, so when you pick it up prepare to invest in it and to lose yourself in Jack's voice. I was apprehensive for the first page or so in wondering if I could connect to Jack, the five year old narrating the story but... this worry was unfounded. I'm in awe of the power Emma Donoghue wields through the voice of Jack and think this book should be read widely.

Facebook Status said...

Such a wonderful treat reading this book was,bcoz it was like NOTHING I'VE EVER READ BEFORE! It takes you out of your comfort zone and plunges you headfirst into the plight of others,the likes of which you had never ever imagined!!

Very beautifully narrated through the eyes of a little child, who is completely unaware of the world that exists outside the small room in which he and his mother are living a poor life as captives.

An AMAZINGLY written book that deals with a very POWERFUL issue, but does so with great sensitivity that is Gauranteed to MOVE YOU!!! The storyline will keep you captivated and make you turn page after page till the very end.

I very highly recommend it what has my new FAVORITE as a MUST READ for avid book lovers!!!!!!!

I like this site :: Zespri Kiwi fruit information said...

I could not stop talking about this book. I really enjoyed reading it.
I told my friends they should read it.

Marlene Detierro said...

Room is intense, but it's so well written, relatable and humane. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I do recommend, however, that you don't start it until you have time to finish it. It is a one-setting novel.

Marlene
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