Room by Emma Donoghue

Finally!  At this very moment, I am not completing necessary prep work in lieu of completing this ridiculously overdue post on Emma Donoghue's Man Booker Prize-nominated Room.  I was captivated by this book from the first excerpt I read.  I even ordered a hardback copy even though I (strangely) prefer paperbacks.  And when I finally got to read it, it was everything I had anticipated: original, memorable, and thought-provoking.  I finished it over the Thanksgiving holiday but couldn't comment on it fully at the time.  Now, here I sit, gazing at the vividly contrasting cover, and I feel empty of all the passion and energy that the reading of it left me with.  In fact, the longer I have sat with it, not writing on it, the less satisfied I have been with it.  So, my opinion now is a few shades quieter and darker than it would have been a week ago. 

The basic plot reveals a mother and her son, Jack, both captives of a rarely-seen kidnapper.  The story is told from Jack's perspective in his unique voice, and it is his voice that makes this book worthy of the praise that has enveloped it.

The first bit:
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?" (3)
Because you so immediately get attuned to his rhythms and phrasings, you also are attuned to his experience, which is unimaginable.  You begin to break a bit right from the start.  But it is not an immediately and consumingly dismal situation.  Jack's Ma is an amazing creation.  Donoghue deserves praise just for creating this world, this concept, and when you realize how skillfully Ma manages this otherwordly life, you almost want to stand in awe.  Ma has developed a ridiculously "normal" life for her son with art projects, play time, good hygiene, relatively healthy food, phys ed (where they do Track, Trampoline, and Corpse among other activities), education, and perhaps most remarkably, safety from her captor.  Jack is very literate and has superb numeracy for his age and development, and he is happy.  How is this possible?  Of course, the story doesn't end there although a part of me wishes it had. 

**spoiler alert???**
Is it common knowledge that they escape from Room?  I must say the escape sequence was wicked-good.  It was one of those growing tensions that made me increase my reading speed and hunch over the book in an anxious twitch to see how it was resolved.  And I was interested in the idea of life after Room for Jack and his Ma, but I was disappointed by the outcome.  As I've sat with this disappointment, I've begun to wonder if there could be any satisfying response.  There is no universally acknowledged response to freedom after abduction, so how am I to judge Ma's actions or the relative mental health of Jack under these circumstances?  I don't feel capable or qualified to do so.  But, I definitely did.  And my judgment left me feeling unsettled.  I did and equally didn't understand how a mother as creative and resilient as she had proven herself to be (I mean, really.  Egg Snake?  That's amazing.) could turn so dramatically after her release.  I didn't understand how Jack's voice could actually grow and mature even as he should have been experiencing some pretty significant sensory overload.  I did and didn't understand how Ma could find email and facebook more important than the mental health of her son.  It was as if she had preserved him so far but no farther; had guaranteed his physical safety but had ignored his emotional and mental needs. 

I enjoyed this book, admired this book, and do not disagree with the accolades that have come its way; however, I think it is being honored more on the strength of its opening section than on the merits of the whole book.  As a gift to someone, I am giving my copy away (no mailing restrictions!), so if you would like it to be yours, comment below. 

I'm also giving away my paperback copy of Between Here and April by Deborah Copaken Kogan.  I don't have time to do a full review, but I would love someone else to do so.  It is a very interesting look at womanhood, postpartum depression, and motherhood, and I do recommend it.  Same routine as with Room.  Just comment with which book you'd like, and I'll pick a winner on Monday.


  1. (SPOILER ALERTS IN THIS COMMENT) I don't think it is common knowledge that they escape - at least, I didn't know they did, and was very pleasantly surprised when they did. I kept thinking that the whole escape plan was a silly literary strategy - if it was doomed to fail. But it didn't. And what I was more surprised about is how well the novel kept its momentum after they escaped. I actually thought the second half was better than the first! By at least we can both agree that it's a stunning book. My review's here, if you're interested: http://thenewdorkreviewofbooks.blogspot.com/2010/10/room-human-kind-cannot-bear-very-much.html


  2. I think your review was one of the ones that first turned me on to this book, Greg. After I posted this, I read a couple of other reviews that made mention of this spoiler/nonspoiler event as if it were common knowledge, but I was glad to have not known before I read it.

  3. I think that the novel actually gained momentum after the escape. Many members of our book group said they were beginning to weary of "Jack speak" and started to skim just a little prior to the shift.

    The second half is difficult in that they are free but have emerged from that protective womb-like environment. Emerging into a less predictable world.