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Room: A Novel

A book by Emma Donoghue

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A child's eye view of a harrowing world

  • Oct 26, 2010
  • by
Rating:
+5
Told entirely through the voice of a five-year-old boy, this spellbinding novel succeeds on many levels: it's a riveting, suspenseful story, a deep psychological portrait of two people with very different agendas, a total immersion in one child's extremely alien universe, an intense portrayal of love between parent and child, and an examination of our culture and socialization.

It's also a beautifully written novel from the Irish-born author of Slammerkin, which will haunt you long after the last page is turned.

The novel opens with Jack's 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?' ....
`Nah, the numbers didn't start till you zoomed down.'
"Through Skylight. You were all sad till I happened in your tummy.' "

Jack and his 26-year-old mother, we soon realize, live entirely in one room, which Jack calls Room. To his mother, it's a prison, their life a perilous nightmare. To Jack it's the only world he has ever known. "I jump onto Rocker to look at Watch, he says 07:14. I can skateboard on Rocker without holding on to her, then I whee back onto Duvet and I'm snowboarding instead."

He is an active, imaginative child who personalizes all the objects in Room. And requires his mother's undivided attention. Even though she has no distractions (or maybe especially because she has no distractions), we wonder how she copes.

After receiving his present - a pencil portrait his Ma did while he was asleep, which disturbs him since he doesn't like the idea that she was studying him while he was "switched off" rather than being asleep herself - Jack goes to pin the picture above Ma's bed.

"She shakes her head. `Not there.'
She doesn't want Old Nick to see."

"Old Nick" is the shadowy man who visits Ma at night and is mostly important for bringing stuff from Outside, like food and Sundaytreats. Jack goes into Wardrobe every night at nine to keep out of his way and when Old Nick goes, his mother carries him, usually asleep, into Bed.

Jack lovingly describes the rituals of their day, from breakfast at which he counts his cereal and "waterfalls" his milk, through his one TV show (he'd like more but "it rots our brains"), Bath, Phys Ed, Stories, Orchestra and in the afternoon Scream, for which they climb on Table under Skylight, every weekday but not Saturday and Sunday. Each day has its own rituals, in addition to the everyday things. And there's one Ma does by herself, flashing Lamp on and off. "She does this in the night, I think it helps her get to sleep again."

The room is full of toys he and his mother have made out of whatever comes to hand; the "masterworks" on the walls, for instance, come from their oatmeal boxes and Eggsnake, longer around than Room, is made from shells of the eggs Jack has been blowing out since he was three. They play word games and sing songs and read their few books.

Jack counts his teeth with his tongue when he feels anxious - when Old Nick comes in before he's asleep, say, or when Ma has one of her "off" days when she stays in bed all day, passive and uncommunicative.

But mostly life is good in Room with Ma. Though TV has given Jack pictures of much of the outside, he conceives the medium as a fantasy world that exists only inside the TV. How does he explain Old Nick and the things he brings? He doesn't. He doesn't need to.

But the logic of Jack's neatly packaged universe is beginning to grow ever so faintly shaky, and his mother's increasing agitation is speeding the process.

Though plot is secondary to (though also integral to) character in the novel, if you don't already know what happens next I'm not going to spoil it for you.

Suffice to say, Jack's voice is as unique as his experience. He is wholly endearing, though no saint, and Ma's many struggles, failures and most especially her absolute love for Jack come through even when he hasn't a clue.

Full of imagination, love, horror and humor, Room is a novel that captivates, entertains and will make you look at the world a bit differently.

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February 09, 2011
Excellent review! I wasn't as impressed with the novel as a lot of people seem to be. You're welcome to check out my review to see what I mean: http://community.cafelibri.com/reviews/book/...ou_Shouldn_t_Enter.html
February 19, 2011
Wow, very thorough review - especially for a book you hated. I'm continually impressed at how completely different people's reactions to books (and movies) can be.
February 22, 2011
Thanks so much for checking it out, Lynn! And I definitely agree with you! It's very interesting to see how we interpret what we see and read so differently.
 
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More Room: A Novel reviews
review by . March 21, 2012
Room       Author: Emma Donoghue   Reviewed By Fran Lewis       The four walls of a room can often be confining when you are sick and unable to get around. But, what happens when the four walls become your only outlet with the world, your only environment and the only person that you see is you mother. From the day he was born Jack’s world evolved in the space of an entire Room. His mother, Ma was kidnapped and lived in the room …
review by . February 02, 2011
Caption
I had been reading and hearing nothing but good things about Room, so I finally decided to see what the hype was all about. My reading pleasure was slightly tainted when the library gave me one week to read it. The book is that popular with the public! However, my friend Paula assured me that it was a quick read. This was not the case. Although I was able to finish the book in one week, it was out of sheer pride and stubbornness. I wanted to stop reading it numerous times, and if …
review by . October 16, 2013
  I finished reading Emma Donoghue's Room a few days ago and I've been puzzling about it ever since.       The novel, which according to Donoghue's website has now sold more than a million copies, was nominated  for and/or has won a raft of prizes including the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize (for best Canadian novel), the Commonwealth Prize (Canada & Carribbean Region), the Canadian Booksellers’ Asand the Orange Prize.  …
Quick Tip by . February 19, 2012
a great perspective of kidnap from the view of one who's never known anything else.
review by . February 23, 2011
Jack has spent his entire life in one location—Room. It is where he was born and to his five year old mind, Room is the entire world. His world contains three people, himself, Ma, and Old Nick. Ma, a victim of kidnapping, uses their limited supplies, to transform Room into a place of adventure and excitement, filled with childhood stories and imaginative play. However, she has never given up hope of being rescued and she longs for their freedom. Told entirely from Jack’s perspective, …
review by . September 17, 2010
   When I first read the synopsis for this book I was worried that I might not enjoy reading a book told through the eyes of a five year old boy.  I felt that it was either going to come across  as too childish and possibly just annoy me, or he would come off as too mature for his age and therefore make it not credible enough for me.  I'm glad to report that I worried in vain.   Ms. Donoghue gives you the chilling tale of "Ma" - who has been held captive …
review by . February 25, 2011
I would never have read this book if it wasn't part of The Morning News' Tournament of Books. Although this seems to be on most "best books" lists for 2010(and shortlisted for the Mann Booker prize), I wasn't sure I wanted to read Room. The story is being told by a five year old boy who is trapped in a 11' by 11' room with his mother. I have to admit to being concerned about how ghoulish and difficult the subject matter would be. I just didn't need another book …
review by . July 10, 2010
This is the kind of book that is better the less you know about it.    Even the product description above, and probably most of the reviews here will give you more information than you need to know.    So this review won't tell you much about this book. What I can tell you is that it lives up to the hype. It's a poignant, thoughtful, and completely original book.    What makes it original? -- the way of looking at the world, the use of …
Quick Tip by . March 07, 2011
The kind of book you don't want to stop reading! Great and easy read.
Quick Tip by . January 30, 2011
This book was all I expected and more. It is a beautifully written novel.
About the reviewer
Lynn Harnett ()
Ranked #184
I love to read, always have, and have been writing reviews for more years than I care to say. Early on, i realized there are more books than there is time to read, so I read only books I like and mostly … more
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Wiki

Amazon Best of the Month, September 2010: In many ways, Jack is a typical 5-year-old. He likes to read books, watch TV, and play games with his Ma. But Jack is different in a big way--he has lived his entire life in a single room, sharing the tiny space with only his mother and an unnerving nighttime visitor known as Old Nick. For Jack, Room is the only world he knows, but for Ma, it is a prison in which she has tried to craft a normal life for her son. When their insular world suddenly expands beyond the confines of their four walls, the consequences are piercing and extraordinary. Despite its profoundly disturbing premise, Emma Donoghue'sRoomis rife with moments of hope and beauty, and the dogged determination to live, even in the most desolate circumstances. A stunning and original novel of survival in captivity, readers who enterRoomwill leave staggered, as though, like Jack, they are seeing the world for the very first time.--Lynette Mong
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Details

ISBN-10: 0316098337
ISBN-13: 978-0316098335
Author: Emma Donoghue
Genre: Literature & Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
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