Room by Emma Donoghue

Friday, November 02, 2012

Title: Room
Author: Emma Donoghue
Genre: Literary fiction, contemporary fiction
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2010
Read for: Alex Awards Challenge
Source: Library

Jack and Ma live in Room. Room has everything they need -- Bed, Toilet, Table, Meltedy Spoon, even TV. However, Room is also a place where a bad man comes and hurts Ma. Is there life outside of Room, and if there was, could Jack handle it?

I've heard quite a bit about Room since it came out about two years ago. Many people I know heralded it as one of the best books they had ever read, disturbing and provocative. Room is definitely a book that caused me to consider how day-to-day life would be perceived by someone who lived in a more simplified paradigm.

When Jack learns that the things he sees on TV actually exist outside of Room, his entire world view is shaken. It was very interesting to experience the changes he went through in his own voice -- his distress is palpable, and his unique way of talking and seeing things intensifies that. His entire life has been carefully scheduled and peppered with specific rules and routines, and realizing that there is something beyond that life causes him to question everything that he used to believe was solid truth. At times, these discoveries were very stressful to read -- the book had many moments when I just wanted to warn Jack to act differently, and would cringe at his behaviors. At the same time, it was impossible to ignore how complicated his life was and how difficult it would be to deal with.

The narrative voice in Room was very unique. It is told from Jack's point of view, a voice that is quite different from your average five-year-old. First of all, Jack's perceptions are warped by his limited reality. In addition, he makes frequent grammatical and syntax mistakes in his speaking, but also uses huge words and thinks about his life at times in a complex way. It made for a unique reading experience, although at times I felt that Jack was not quite believable as a five-year-old. Then again, Jack would be difficult to pin down, having lived such a bizarre life. I did think that the plot construction and the experiences Jack has were very artfully arranged, leading to a poignant scene at the end of the book that was beautifully executed.

As Room was exploding across the blogosphere a few years ago, the reaction I most frequently encountered was that of disgust and sadness for the abuses and privations that Jack and his Ma endured. While those emotions were definitely present in my reading of Room, what most stood out to me was the bond between Jack and his Ma and the way she made such an effort to give him the best life possible with her extraordinarily limited resources. She doesn't let him watch more than an hour of TV a day, even though they are in an isolated room with only ten books to keep them entertained. She makes him run around the tiny room to exercise and be healthy. She comes up with game after game to keep him entertained as well as educated. To me, that was the most hopeful part of the book -- the fact that Jack's Ma loved him so much and made such an effort to raise him well in her uniquely awful circumstances.

Room is definitely an interesting book. It presents many questions about our modern lives without providing easy answers. It also gives an opportunity to perceive the complexity and excess of day to day life through a refreshing and different voice. While Room was not my favorite book of all time, it was an interesting experience.

3.5 stars

Warnings: Some violence, disturbing images and themes, not-detailed sexual abuse


  1. I thought the first half of the book (in Room) was a lot more captivating than the second half.
    But overall I liked it and it was definitely thought provoking.

    1. I agree -- I also think it was just hard to read about Jack's reaction to Outside and people's reactions to him. Definitely an interesting read.


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