Room

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RoomRoom by Emma Donoghue
Published: 2010
Length: 321 pages

This story follows a young boy, Jack, and his mother as they live their lives trapped in a small room. Jack was born there, and in his five years of life he has never seen the world beyond the locked door. Emma Donoghue was inspired by the horrifying events in the 2008 Josef Fritzl abduction case, in which a man in Austria locked his daughter in his basement and abused her for twenty-four years.

When I was a little kid I thought like a little kid, but now I’m five I know everything.

I enjoyed this so much more than I thought I would. What could have been an irritating gimmick, having a five-year-old narrate a harrowing story such as this, worked perfectly for me. I thought Donoghue hit the perfect balance of making Jack’s voice feel authentic without it feeling like you’re actually in the head of a child for three-hundred pages, which seems like a tricky feat. This novel wouldn’t work if Jack’s thoughts were too mature, but it also wouldn’t work if his thoughts were completely that of a five-year-old, and she really managed to pulled it off.

The writing in this was fantastic. Not only was Jack’s voice somewhat believable for his age, but I was constantly surprised with the little insights and observations he had as a child locked away from the outside world. We learn about the situation as Jack does, without any chunks of exposition, but we obviously understand what’s happening well before he does. That gap in knowledge, between the reader and the protagonist, is usually a huge annoyance in fiction, but it’s part of the charm when you have a five-year-old narrator. He watches television, and listens to his mother’s stories, and often misinterprets what he’s seeing in smart and beautiful little ways that make sense in the context of his life. I really loved these moments, and I imagine there must have been a strong temptation for Donoghue to carefully explain to the reader how clever she was being, but she just sprinkles these moments about for the reader to find.

Sometimes when persons say definitely it sounds actually less true.

I wouldn’t call this a thriller, and it’s not really frightening, but it was very unnerving. It was also often a pleasant read, however, despite having such dark inspiration and subject matter. In a way, the mother’s act of shielding her son from the horror of their situation managed to also shield it from the reader. Maybe I’m just simple, but the daily routines and distractions she set out for Jack also helped settle me in a way, although there was still always that eerie undertone of wondering what was to come. This was the dictionary definition of a page-turner for me, without it being heavily plot-driven, which is an interesting mix.

I really thought she executed this perfectly, and I’ll will be looking to pick up another novel by her soon. We have a big used book sale coming up, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned, and there will certainly be a few of her novels to be found there. It’s usually easy to find books from anyone associated with a Man Booker Prize, which this was shortlisted for in 2010, as well as popular Canadian authors in general (Irish-born, but we’ve adopted her).

8 thoughts on “Room

  1. Silvia

    We have a big book sale coming up soon, too, and you’ve given me another author (and I’ll see if she shows up in the bookshops on my side of the world, huh!)
    This totally intrigued me. It’s high praise to do all you say she did, and do it well. And I don’t think I’ve read anything similar. (I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book with a narrator that young as 5 yo, and in a situation that different or extreme as that in this book).
    I’m enjoying your reviews, they discover new books to me.

    Reply
    1. Rob Post author

      Thanks! I hope you’re able to find a copy. It was a refreshing read.

      And be sure to post what you get from the used book sale! I love seeing people’s sale hauls.

      Reply
  2. Ruthiella

    I totally agree with your review. I really liked this book a lot. I was really wary of reading this book but am so glad I did. I think she got the voice of a child right for the reader (although there are plenty who disagree) and was able to relate a pretty terrifying story in a way that didn’t terrify me so much I couldn’t read it.

    If you are looking for other Donoghue titles, I can recommend Slammerkin if you are in the mood for historical fiction. I also read The Sealed Letter but didn’t like it as much as Slammerkin.

    Reply
    1. Rob Post author

      Yeah, look through some reviews, it seems like the narration really didn’t work for some people, but I still think it was fantastic.

      I’ll have a look for Slammerkin, thanks for the recommendation. I’ve been wanting to get into historical fiction actually. I was surprised to see how much she’s written, so if I like her other novels, it looks like I’ll have plenty to go through.

      Reply
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