Monday, 22 May 2017

Room by Emma Donoghue

Book Review

Room by Emma Donoghue - Reading, Writing, Booking Blog

“Scared is what you're feeling. Brave is what you're doing.”

Room is written by Emma Donoghue and published by Picador.

Room has divided a lot of readers, with some loving the 5-year-old protagonist and others not able to read much further than the first few pages. I for one read Room in one sitting and found it an odd mixture; naïve and horrific at the same time.


To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough...not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

I read the first few pages of Room and I didn’t think I’d be able to continue, like many other readers the narration by 5-year-old Jack felt too cutesy and grating. Plus, the first page is all about how Jack came down from Heaven to make his Ma happy. Vomit inducing stuff.
I’m not going to be able to read a whole book of this, I thought. However, I kept going and I’m so glad I did, I don’t know if I got used to Jack’s narration or it’s deliberately eased off, but it doesn’t grate half as much as you’d think. The juxtaposition of Jack’s innocent voice compared to the very dark subject matter somehow makes Room compulsive reading.

It’s such an interesting concept; a woman is held captive and gives birth to a son, she then raises the son in captivity to the best of her ability. I’d like to say it’s an unbelievable concept but unfortunately it does happen.

Donoghue’s good at revealing snippets to the reader via Jack. As older readers we realise there’s something wrong. It’s harrowing as you’re desperate for Jack and Ma to escape, but it’s also touching as the relationship between the mother and son is so strong.

I found both Jack and Ma believable, especially Ma. She’s an ordinary woman put in a horrendous situation and it’s about how she survives. I like that Donoghue also shows her setbacks too, how she shuts off occasionally and is clearly depressed. It makes her realistic and you really feel for her.

Donoghue is also great at creating a cramped and rigid atmosphere, which shows not only the horror, but also the tedium that Ma and Jack face. There is a claustrophobic feeling in this book that perfectly fits the setting.

At times I did find myself getting a bit frustrated with Jack, with him not knowing what simple things are and not wanting to see the truth, but then I have to remember that he completely believes that he, Ma and Old Nick are the only real people and that there is only space outside Room.

I wanted to read more about Old Nick, Jack knows little about him so not much is revealed, and what is revealed is done well, but just personally I want to know why he did what he did.

Ultimately I think Room lives up to the hype, it’s oddly compelling and a unique concept.

My Rating: 4/5

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