Room – Emma Donoghue [REVIEW]

This was another book I’d been meaning to read for ages. And thanks to another classmate it was bumped to the top of my list when she let me borrow her copy. I’m so glad! This was a fantastic book and I read it in maybe a day and a half. I stayed up way too late reading it, and didn’t want it to end.

roomTitle: Room

Author: Emma Donoghue

Paperback: 412 pages

Publisher: Picador; Main Market Ed. edition (7 Jan. 2011)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0330519026

ISBN-13: 978-0330519021


Jack is five. He lives with his Ma. They live in a single, locked room. They don’t have the key.

Jack and Ma are prisoners.

Things I loved:

1. POV & Voice

This book is pretty unique, I think. We’re always taught on my MA about the importance of point of view and voice, and how these things can make or break a novel. I’ve really struggled with character voice in the past – it’s something I’m still working on now – and I think this novel is a perfect example of not only HOW to write voice, but WHY you should write voice effectively and the affect it has on the novel.

Jack is five. His entire life is Room; he has never left the room, does not really know about the world outside it. He sees things on TV, and knows that some things are Real and some things are Not Real. But his whole world is shattered when his Ma reveals that actually there is a world out there. And that the two of them are prisoners.

The POV is firmly inside Jack’s head. He doesn’t understand a lot of what is happening to him and his Ma, and he spends a lot of the novel rationalising things that other characters in books have never had to deal with. And because he has such a funny, sincere voice, you really truly feel for him every second – even when he’s making his mother’s life difficult, even when he is acting in a way which you, as a reader, find difficult to comprehend. Jack’s love for his Ma is overwhelming, and it fuels the feeling of the whole novel. And it’s wonderful.

Voice-wise, Donoghue takes certain techniques to the extreme – and does it well. Because Jack has never left the Room, he thinks about everything in terms of Room and how it all fits together. He knows that the sun exists, but thinks the moon only exists when he can see it; his entire world revolves around the activities his Ma has invented to keep him fit and intellectually stimulated; he thinks that Bed and Wardrobe and Rug are his friends, and he is completely obsessed with Dora the Explorer. And his voice reflects this. The way he speaks, the way he puts sentences together vs the way he formulates his thoughts – basically, his internal monologue is the same as the way he speaks, and only his Ma truly understands him. They have such a special bond, a bond that is more than language and more than actions, and one that has been captured brilliantly.

And of course, the clever thing is that the reader understands more than Jack. Jack makes reference to Old Nick coming to see his mother at night, and the “beep” sound that accompanies it as the electronic lock on the door announces it opening – and we as readers infer that Old Nick is the one holding them captive, and that he is probably Jack’s father. And even though Jack doesn’t understand any of this, we can guess it. And that engagement is exactly what I love in novels, so this alone is fantastic.

I couldn’t do justice to the novel by trying to describe all the things Donoghue has done in order to achieve Jack’s voice, but I’d recommend reading the novel to see how well it’s done.

2. Concept

The concept is brilliant in itself. Without the voice mentioned above I’m not sure the concept is particularly unique, but when combined with the way Jack is written, it’s great. Quite often in books about kidnapping, you get one perspective – that of the kidnap victim. But this is not Ma’s story, it’s Jack’s. He, too, is a victim. But he is not THE victim that everybody thinks about. This book twists your average kidnapping story and upends that. And we get a much more interesting novel because of it.

3. Flow of plot

The story also flows really well. I’d been afraid that a whole novel set in one room might make for a stagnant story, but this isn’t the case. Partially because (spoilers ahoy here so look away now if you don’t want to be spoilered because this is a biggie…..) the novel doesn’t actually take place in just the room. Gasp. I know! I hadn’t expected that either. And because I didn’t actually expect it, it was a surprising twist for me, and it kept me interested. Once they’re out of the room, there’s a whole other gamut of things for them to deal with, and that was really interesting too. Although once they were out of the room, part of me felt a bit like Jack: uncomfortable, out of place, and wishing to be back in the safety of Room. Bizarre, right?

Anyway, this book is great. I’ve rambled and it’s probably not very clear, but I’ve been thinking about this book all week and my thoughts haven’t gotten any clearer. I’m still entrenched in how awesome it was. So, please excuse me, and go out and buy the damn book right now. =D




4 thoughts on “Room – Emma Donoghue [REVIEW]

  1. Brittan says:

    This book is so polarizing! Most of the reviews I’ve read either express a lot of admiration or a lot of dislike for this book. I didn’t care for it very much; I actually found the second half of the book to be not only unbelievable, but also better-suited for Ma’s POV rather than Jack’s. Granted, I’m extremely critical of how children are written–and in fact, the only book I can think of recently that does it well is Kazuo Ishiguro’s /Never Let Me Go/.


    • franwritesstuff says:

      I agree that the second half is less believable and probably better suited to Ma, but by then I was comfortable in Jack’s POV and I liked him too much to see him through new eyes, haha. But I agree that the book does seem to have polarised people. It was actually something that made me really sceptical to start with and I was pleasantly surprised – but I don’t read a lot of child narrators so maybe that’s got something to do with it? 🙂


  2. somemaid says:

    Thanks for a great review. This book sounds brilliant, just added it to my want to read list on good reads. I struggle with POV in my own writing and its always cool to see how others tackle it.


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