Friday, October 8, 2010

a review of "Room" [74]

Room: A Novel  by Emma Donoghue
Little, Brown and Company
ISBN 978-0316098335
September 13, 2010, 336 pages

"Lunch is bean salad, my second worst favorite. After nap we do Scream every day but not Saturdays or Sundays. We clear our throats and climb up on Table to be nearer Skylight, holding hands not to fall. We say "On your mark, get set, go," then we open wide our teeth and shout holler howl yowl shriek screech scream the loudest possible. Today I'm the most loudest ever because my lungs are stretching from being five.
Then we shush with fingers on lips. I asked Ma once what we're listening for and she said just in case, you never know."
Jack's entire world is Room and the things contained in Room. Bed and Table and Television and Rug and, most of all, Ma, his mother. As the book opens, it is Jack's fifth birthday, every day of which has been spent in Room. For him, it is a wonderful place, made up of very complete, structured days that fill all his needs. They brush their teeth, they bath in Tub, they wash their clothes, they eat, they play, they exercise, they watch TV...but not too much because it rots your brain...they read and re-read the few books they have. And then, when night comes, Jack crawls into Wardrobe to sleep, in case Old Nick comes in the night. Because mention of Old Nick is the thing that makes Ma sad...and scared.

Up to this point Room has been Jack's entire reality and in many ways it has been a very complete, contented reality, filled with structure and normality and most of all love. But of course we know...and Ma knows...that this is not the the totality of reality and that at some point she will have to reveal this to the boy, a revelation that will have profound consequences for the lives of everyone involved. At some point, things will reach a tipping point. We read between the lines and soon become aware of the horrible situation, the horrible events of the past that have brought us to this point but when that is contrasted with the very everyday, non-emotional, very pragmatic voice of our narrator, young Jack, what pull and push sets up the tension of the book from the first pages.

I do not want to tell you too much about the plot because figuring out what is going on is part of the enjoyment and interest of this book. It is not always clear. Sometimes you have to read carefully to be sure of what Jack is talking about because his view is so limited, so focused. I will say this; as we do start to figure it out, our feeling of dread will increase and even in the second part of the book, where the story takes a radical change, our dis-ease will not go away but just change focus, with some cause.

But this is not a scary book, or a negative book. It is actually a very positive book, because Jack is a delightful narrator and Ma, his main subject, is a fascinating character. She is someone in a terrible situation who has made the very best of it and her best is quite good. Writing the story all from Jack's point of view is what define this book. Imagine if your entire view of realty was a 11x11 foot room and one other human being. It is very hard, but something that Ms. Donoghue, with maybe just a few lapses, manages to do. Those few lapses, when Jack's voice seems to lose it's way, is one slight problem I had with the book. Jack is a very intelligent boy. Mostly. He is direct, pragmatic, as the author says her own real son, who she used as a model for Jack, is. Is she able to fully succeed at maintaining that voice? Perhaps...perhaps times he seems very intelligent, at times too naive. Also, the first part of the book is maybe a bit too repetitious, the second part, perhaps not as unique as the first. But really, how could it be? Speaking of staying true to character, Ma herself does something well into the book which again seem so totally unlike something that she would do, especially at that point...well, I will leave that to you to see what you think of it.

But even with these few issues, I think Room is very interesting, very unique book that I would certainly recommend. It is funny and touching and sad and a hopeful story about the remarkable strength of love. It is a story about one little boy, but as Donoghue said in an interview, it is also a bigger story about "the hero, confined in a small world, trying to break out...a journey from one world to another." I have read a few of the author's books before and it is certainly unlike anything she has written before. In fact, it is really unlike anything I have read before written by anyone. I think you will see why it has been shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize.

My thanks to Little, Brown and Company for an ARC of this book.


  1. Awesome review. I think I'm the only person in book blog land who hasn't read this yet. I want to!

  2. Great review, Caite! I've had some reservations about reading this one (I know, everyone seems to love it!). You've just about convinced me to give it a try... thanks.

  3. I'm so intrigued by this book that I used my birthday gift certificate to buy it. I'm very anxious to read it. Thanks for sharing an excerpt ... no review I saw so far has done that and I was very curious how a narration by a 5-year-old would sound.

  4. I felt like Jack was intelligent because Ma tried to teach him and naive because she tried to protect him. I'm trying to figure out what she did that you think was unlike her and I think I might know.

  5. Yes Kathy, you may well be right. It was just that sometimes his 'voice' did not sound consistent to me.
    But then I am not all that consistent myself, so why should a 5 year old be? lol


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