Book Review – Room: A Novel

Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra.  Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero.  “Was I minus numbers?” – opening paragraph*

I’m sure by now you have all heard about Room.  Recently long-listed for the Man Booker Prize (check), this book is getting all kinds of buzz in the media and from the book blogging community.  I figured I should just go ahead and add my voice to the song because…

…all of the buzz is right.

This book is amazing.

You have never read anything like Room.

Room is told by Jack. Jack is five years old and Room is the world to him and it becomes quickly apparent that Jack’s world is not the same as our world.   Room is where he was born.  It is where he sleeps, eats, bathes, plays and learns.  At night, he sleeps in Wardrobe to hide from Old Nick, the man who brings them food and vitamins, creaks the bed and occasionally brings them a “Sundaytreat.”  Jack has never been outside Room’s four walls; its’ an eleven-foot-square comfort zone.  Room is only a comfort zone for Jack, however.  Jack’s mother, or Ma as he calls her, would do just about anything to escape.

For Room is Ma’s prison, the prison Old Nick has kept her captive for seven years.  Seven long, lonely, terrifying years.  With determined bravery, a little bit of cunning, and a lot of powerful motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack.  Yet Ma knows it isn’t enough, especially with Jack growing older.  Room isn’t enough for him and it is definitely not enough for her.    She knows they have to escape, and she knows she’ll need Jack’s help.

Without a doubt, my favorite part of this book was Jack.  Precocious without being too precious, Jack’s voice is wholly original, which is just what one would expect from a story told by a child who has never seen anything of the world.  I mean just imagine, he’s never seen grass.  He’s never seen trees.  He’s never breathed the fresh, sweet air of spring, the humidity of summer, the frost of winter.  All these things only exist for him on TV.  Here, have another taste of his voice:

We have thousands of things to do every morning, like give Plant a cup of water in Sink for no spilling, then put her back on her saucer on Dresser.  Plant used to live on Table but God’s face burned a leaf of her off.  She has nine left, they’re the wide of my hand with furriness all over, like Ma says dogs are. But dogs are only TV.  I don’t like nine.  I find a tiny leaf coming, I’ve seen her two times, that counts as ten.  – page 8

Jack and Ma have five books, one of which is Alice in Wonderland.  I love Jack’s assessment of Alice:

Ma hardly ever reads the no-pictures ones except if she’s desperate.  When I was four we asked for one more with pictures for Sundaytreat and Alice in Wonderland came, I like her but she’s got too many words and lots of them are old. page 17

As you can see, Jack practically has his own language.  I was afraid this would be hard to read, but as I quickly fell in love with Jack it wasn’t a problem.  There is so much to see from the point of view of a 5 year old, things you just wouldn’t see if it was his Ma telling this story.   Emma Donoghue has done something so completely special and unique here.  Jack is such a clean slate, so completely and totally innocent and happy, thanks to his Ma’s fierce protection and love.  He doesn’t even know to be afraid of spiders, only fascinated.

Spider’s real. I’ve seen her two times. I look for her now but there’s only a web between Table’s legs and her flat. Table balances good, that’s pretty tricky, when I go on one leg I can do it forages but then I always fall over. I don’t tell Ma about Spider. She brushes webs away, she says they’re dirty but they look like extra-thin silver to me.  Ma likes the animals that run around eating each other on the wildlife planet, but not real ones. When I was four I was watching ants walking up Stove and she ran and splatted them all so they wouldn’t eat our food. One minute they were alive and the next minute they were dirt. I cried so my eyes nearly melted off.

and his distress over Ma banishing a mouse from their room is equally endearing:

Then the wonderfulest thing, Mouse puts his mouth out, it’s pointy. I nearly jump in the air, but I don’t, I stay extra still.  He comes up to the crumbs and sniffs.  I’m only about two feet away, I wish I had Ruler to measure but he’s tidied in Box in Under Bead and I don’t want to move and scare Mouse.  I watch his hands, his whiskers, his tail all curly.  He’s alive for real, he’s the biggest alive thing I ever saw, millions of times bigger than the ants or Spider.

It’s passages like this, Jack’s absolute curiosity about everything, is what made the book for me.  Room is funny, scary, sad, hopeful, and unique and I can only hope I have done this book some small measure of justice.  Really, just read it.  Room may be the most brilliantly executed book I’ve read all year and Emma Donoghue has cemented her place on my favorite authors list.

Room: A Novel
Written by Emma Donoghue
Contemporary Fiction
Published by: Little, Brown Company
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 336
On Sale: September 13, 2010
ISBN: 9780316098335

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27 thoughts on “Book Review – Room: A Novel

  1. All of you advanced readers are KILLING me!!! This sounds so amazing. Just this review nearly brought me to tears. Sounds like such an incredible book.

  2. Great review, Heather! This book was shattering on many levels, and I'm glad it's on the Booker longlist! It's one that has stayed with me, and I don't think I'll quite forget how much it shook me.

  3. I keep worrying I'm going to see someone who hated this book, but it is wonderful to see glowing reviews everywhere. I love the passages that you've chosen. I thought the most emotional passages were at the end so didn't want to spoil things by including them. Reading your passages proves that the beginning was good too, but as the end is so much better your quotes make me realise how outstanding this book is. I hope that many more people decide to read it 🙂

  4. I'm convinced. This one sounds wonderful, and I love the passages you shared. Jack sounds like a great character, and what a wonderful spin Donoghue has put on this story.

  5. This one got added to my list a few weeks ago. I tried to buy in for my Kindle the same day but it wasn't available. I can't wait to read it!

  6. Sounds really, really compelling — and like something that would keep me up at night, thinking! I'd actually never heard of this one before your review, but I'll keep an eye out. Excellent review — love your incorporation of quotes and passages; it really brought the book to life for me.

  7. This book is still haunting me, but in a good way. I read it in one sitting because I had to find out what happened to these amazing characters. I laughed, cried and was terrified. I will pick it up again in a week or two and slowly go through it to try to absorb the nuances and beautiful passages. Enjoy!

  8. I could not agree more. There is really nothing else out there quite like this. Donoghue creates a character that is so convincing, you beleive the unbeleivable. It is not only a comment on what we have to fear in our world, but on the power of relationships and a whole new perspective on family, love and compassion. I am not over this book yet, and I am sure it will stay with any reader for a long time.

  9. I just just finished reading this book. It was fantastic. I am the mother of a small boy, and it was a little too much for me at times.

  10. I'm in love with Jack — and with Emma Donoghue for being able to get me inside the head of a 5 year old without any adult narration. The book presents a dark situation but triumph and victory shine through because of Jack's precocious innocence (oxymoron, I know) and his mother's gift of creative parenting.

  11. I read this book after being captivated by the cover. The simple white with crayon title completely drew me in. Jack is an amazingly real little boy to me, I think about him still after finishing the book. I felt real grief and happiness for him.

    Such an amazing tale of strength that comes from loving someone. ( no matter how young you are )

  12. the Book is Great,on many levels.For me being just a new mother it provides an illustration of motherhood,you are the space of your child in the beginning.You create the room,you can extend it but at some point the room for the two of you is too small.This discovery is a weird one,the right of freedom of a child,to be encouraged to explore and enter into contact,self determination,all this is beautifully captured by this parable ( ?sorry I am not a native English speaker).Though room depicts a horrible situation it is very pure and almost depicting in black and white perception and evolution of a child. The description of force and incredible willpower of Ma is something which many women might also relate to when it comes to care for their children,this might sound so banal and cheesy.The book is far from that.Emma Donoghue refuses to say that you have to be a mother to be able to write this, I don't agree with her.

  13. I picked up this novel from my Mum's coffee table and there was a bookmark in it. I kept reading hoping that we could "tag team" when she was out, but she told me that the novel had been their book club's book of the month, therefore I could keep reading.

    This book is amazing. I don't care if anyone thinks it is a rip off of a current event, that you have to be a mother to understand, that anyone with children couldn't understand the underlying horror that is occurring, it is written from a 5 year old's perspective and the language is timeless.

    The outstanding aspect of this novel is the words. The fact that objects are 'friends' still floors me and it took me a couple of pages to understand the capital letters for objects we see as unimportant but once you read the text, even these objects in everyday life becomes important. Again the underlying horror that is communicated without having to put the book down and walk away is pure skill.

    I applaud this novel and am telling everyone I know that this is a "not to miss book".

    PS. I now have to buy it for my collection and read it again!

  14. I truly HATED this book. I thought the character of the five-year-old was truly not believable and was appalled that the author chose to make wonderful a topic so horrendous as kidnapping a mother and child and forcing them to live in a room. The fact that Jack was in the closet listening to his mother being raped truly disgusts me. Definitely would not recommend.

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