Monday, December 20, 2010

Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

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, two, one, then zero. [excerpt from opening paragraph]

Room by Emma Donoghue
Little Brown & Company, 2010
Fiction; 336 pgs

Emma Donoghue's Room has received much praise from critics and bloggers. As with any book that is raved about, I find myself both excited to dive in and reluctant that all the hype will leave me disappointed. I was curious about Room, especially given it is written from the perspective of a five year old whose world view is limited to that of the room he and his mother are imprisoned in. Jack's mother was kidnapped, locked in a garden shed for several years, giving birth to her rapist's son during that time.

The novel opens on Jack's fifth birthday. He knows very little about the outside world. What he does know comes from the stories his mother tells him, what he sees on television, and is in the books he reads. To him, all that is fiction. His mother has made the most of their situation, teaching Jack to read and write and do math. Jack is a very intelligent boy for his age in that regard.

While I enjoyed the first part of the book, getting to know Jack, his mother, and the world they lived in, it wasn't until the second part that I really became fully invested in the story and hated to put it down.


It began with the escape plan and built from there. The entire sequence of events was intense, from the moment Jack is wrapped up in the blanket to the moment he is in his mother's arms again after the police find her.

I was especially interested in seeing how the author would handle Jack's entry into the real world. It wasn't just about his experience, but about his mother's as well. Told from Jack's perspective, it provided an interesting dimension to the story, but his mother's struggle with re-entry was just as difficult. I especially liked the juxtaposition of how she wanted to put her captivity and everything about it behind her while Jack missed his old life. The author did a good job of capturing the psychological intricacies involved.


It's been a long time since I was last around a five year old, and so I'm not the best person to say whether Donoghue correctly captured the voice of a child that age. Given his upbringing, how much knowledge he had and how little he knew of the outside world, I had no trouble buying into Jack's character and situation. I really came to feel for him and his mother and everything they had to go through.

I liked the book quite a bit and appreciate the author's approach to such a dark story, especially the way she crafted her characters and all of their nuances. Her description of Room in Jack's eyes was well done. Still, I didn't come away loving the book quite as much as others. I can't pin my finger on exactly why. Perhaps the more I think on it, it will come to me . . .

Rating: * (Very Good)

You can learn more about Emma Donoghue and her books on the author's website.

Source: I bought the e-book for my nook in September. My first official nook read!

© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. I'm intrigued by this book after reading lots of rave reviews on it; on top of that I'm also curious with the 5-year-old child's perspective. I don't think I've ever read anything with a voice that young so I look forward to reading it next year.

  2. I had trouble getting into it at first because of how Jack narrated. I did get use to it though. Glad you liked it. I also gave it a 4.

  3. I really liked this book had exactly the same feelings as you mentioned in your "spoiler" section. I had such a hard time writing a spoiler-free review. I should have handled it the way you did !!

  4. I liked this one as well, but had a hard time getting use to Jack's way of speaking in the first 50 or so pages.

  5. Like Diane, I also had trouble with Jack's "voice" for the first few pages, but the quickly became sucked in. I thought this was a terribly captivating read, and one of my best of the year. There was something so harrowing about it all, and in the end, I loved Jack's innocence and Ma's persistence. Great review on this one. I am glad to hear that you mostly liked this one!

  6. I felt claustrophobic and a little bored at first, and I think that was purposeful. Then I couldn't lay it down. I was awed by the author's ability to not only portray a smart little five year old kid, but imagine all the implications of being captive your entire life. Our book club read this, and one of our members, who was pregnant, hated it. It just disturbed her so much, she couldn't finish it.

  7. I rated it a 4 as well, and agree with most of what you shared; however, I only bought into Jack about 50% of the time.

  8. I am a bit like you in that I am anxious to read the highly praised books, but a little leery that they will not live up to the hype.

    I was fortunate enough to win this book on another blog and I am hopeful to delve into it during the first part 2011.

  9. This is one that has been on my wish list for awhile. It's good to see that while you didn't love it, you still thought it was a great read.

  10. i cruised through your review because I haven't read it yet and don't want to ruin anything. Glad that you enjoyed it which has reaffirmed that this is one I will read next year!

  11. I didn't read your spoiler as I have this book on hold at the library. I don't normally read books that are all hyped up, or if I do, it's years later. I want to read this because of what it's about, not because it's popular.

    It's taking too long to be my turn LOL.

  12. I liked this book a lot, but had trouble getting into it at first.

  13. Four Paws, like you say, is still Very Good! I think sometimes just the hype alone will keep me from really loving a book and not allow me to pinpoint just what it is. I'm definitely curious about this one--sounds horrifying and fascinating all at the same time.

  14. I expected this book to be upsetting, but it really wasn't. I thought Jack's point perspective was really interesting. I wasn't too crazy about the end though.

  15. I will be back for your review. I just wanted to see if you had liked it or not. I hope to read this one over Christmas.

  16. I rushed out to buy this one and then never read it. I'll be curious to see what I think of it.

  17. I do want to read this one but I'm sort of putting it off for a while since it's been such a buzz and now my expectations are really high. I'm glad you liked it even if it was a favorite.

  18. I've read a few reviews from people that weren't wild about this one but enough like yours to convince me to pick it up.

  19. Melody - I do hope you get a chance to read it, Melody. It's definitely worth it!

    Teddy - It does take a bit to settle into his voice, doesn't it?

    Laura - I tried to do without the spoiler, but it's such a hard book to talk about otherwise. I wish I could have managed it as I really hate to spoil anything.

    Diane - Having such a young narrator with such a limited world view could not have been easy. It took me a second or two to settle into his voice as well.

    Heather - It was very captivating, I agree. I really enjoyed this book and admire the author's skill at pulling it off as well as she did.

    Sandy - Claustrophobic is a good word to use to describe the opening chapters. I was really impressed with how well the author captured Jack's predicament and his character. I can see how this would make a great discussion book in a book club!

  20. Joy - It's been ages since I was last around a 5 year old for any length of time and so I just kind of went with the flow. I have worked with children who have been isolated to the extreme before (usually they were also abused) that they were severely developmentally and academically delayed.

    Molly - I hope you will like it when you get to it, Molly.

    Kris - It really was a great read and one I would recommend to just about anyone.

    Staci - I wish I'd been able to do without the spoiler, but I just couldn't do it. :-(

    Callista - I agree. I tend to read books because I want to (although I did cave and read The Hunger Games because of peer pressure) rather than because of their popularity. It just happens that often times the popular books are the ones that I want to read. :-S

    Kathy - It does take a while to get into. I loved Jack's voice once I did though.

  21. Trish - Exactly! I did think it was a very good book and am so glad I read it. I think you hit the nail on the head. The hype just built my expectations up a little too high. I actually think this one might make my top 10 list this year. There was so much I did like about it.

    Christine - You know, you're right. It wasn't as upsetting as it could have been. I think it helped that Jack was so unaware of the reality of his situation.

    Darlene - I look forward to reading your thoughts on it, Darlene! So hurry up! LOL

    Kathleen - I'll be curious to see what you think of it too, Kathleen. I hadn't planned to read it when I did but a fellow blogger/friend convinced me my nook would be very convenient while spending several hours at the hospital.

    Iliana - I think that was my problem, Iliana. I read it while all the buzz was still about and my expectations were just too high. I still enjoyed it quite a bit though. But if you are like me, waiting might be good. :-)

    Lisa - I'll be interested to know what you think if you do decide to read it.

  22. Happy New Year, Wendy!

    I agree with you - the escape part of the book was probably one of the most palm-sweating (is that a word!??!) read I have ever read - I was completely invested in it. This one made my list of Best Books.

  23. Wendy - Palm sweating is a good description of that scene, I think. I considered it for my best list but in the end decided it just didn't make the cut. I really enjoyed it, but I didn't love it.


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