Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fiction Review: Room

Room by Emma Donoghue is hard to classify because it is an utterly unique novel.  It deserves all the praise it has received and all of its appearances on various Top Ten and Best of 2010 lists.  I read this novel in record time, scarcely able to set it down.  It’s one of those books that you can’t wait to finish and then you feel sad when it’s over.

Room is narrated by five-year old Jack who lives with his Ma in an eleven-foot by eleven-foot room.  Although Jack doesn’t realize it, he and his mother are prisoners, held captive by a man he only knows as Old Nick who kidnapped his mother seven years ago.  Jack was born in this single room, so it is the only world he knows, and his mother has protected him – wonderfully, endearingly, achingly – from knowledge of their situation or of the bigger outside world.

Her strategy has worked – Jack is intelligent, kind, and full of life, completely unaware that he’s missing out on anything more.  This is how the novel opens, on Jack’s fifth birthday:

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?”

“Hmm?” Ma does a big stretch.

“Up in Heaven.  Was I minus one, minus two, minus three - ?”

“Nah, the numbers didn’t start till you zoomed down.”

“Through Skylight.  You were all sad till I happened in your tummy.”

“You said it.” Ma leans out of Bed to switch on Lamp, he makes everything light up whoosh.

I shut my eyes just in time, then open one a crack, then both.

“I cried till I didn’t have any tears left,” she tells me.  “I just lay here counting the seconds.”

“How many seconds?” I ask her.

“Millions and millions of them.”

“No, but how many exactly?”

“I lost count,” says Ma.

“Then you wished and wished on your egg till you got fat.”

She grins.  “I could feel you kicking.”

“What was I kicking?”

“Me, of course.”

I always laugh at that bit.

Just from this brief opening passage, you learn so much, about Jack’s sweet innocence, his intelligence, and the love that he and his Ma feel for each other.  Telling this story from Jack’s point of view is absolute genius because we are learning about an atrocious, horrible situation from a very innocent, unknowing perspective.  It is gripping and entrancing from this very first page.

Jack’s five-year old questions and eagerness to learn, combined with his mother’s growing desperation, lead her to conclude that Room just can’t hold the two of them for much longer.   Their story is warm and sweet, yet also frightening and tense.  I loved Jack and his Ma from the very first page and was rooting for them.  There are plenty of surprises in this book, as well as thought-provoking situations and suspense, but to explain any more of the plot here would ruin it.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.  Room is one of the best, most unique novels to come along in a long time.  In fact, just writing this review makes me want to read it all over again.

NOTE:  You may find Jack’s habit of referring to objects as proper nouns – Room, Wardrobe, Bed – a bit awkward at first, but when I realized why he does that, it made me smile.

321 pages, Little, Brown

Where Are You Reading 2010:  I can’t add a pin to my world map for Room because it is – intentionally, I think – set in a no-name place that could easily be just about anywhere, maybe even right in your town.



  1. I have been wanting to read this,and a friend has it on her Kindle an we were going to just trade Kindles for a week or so for me to read it. I just always seem to be reading so much new stuff I can't get everything in.
    Your review gives me even more desire to get this one in my hands

  2. I've been wavering on reading this but I think I'm going to go ahead and try it. Not my usual reading material, but it's good to expand.

  3. Great review! I had a hard time putting my thoughts into words, but you did a great job. I also thought the execution of this book was excellent.