Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Review #1: Room by Emma Donoghue

Warning: This review contains some mild spoilers, but they're very central to the plot and discussing them doesn't really give anything away.

I've been a fan of Emma Donoghue for a while now. I was interested to check this book out, because it's definitely a departure from the historical fiction that she usually writes. I got this book for Christmas, and I finished it in under 24 hours. I'm a fast reader, but I think this would be a particularly quick read for most people--you can't put it down.

Room is told from the perspective of a 5 year old boy named Jack. We learn early on that he has spent his entire life living in one room with his mother, imprisoned by a man referred to as Old Nick. Jack is unaware that a world exists outside the room--although he has access to a television, he believes that the images he sees are fake. Jack's mother tells him early on in the book that world is much larger than their room, and starts preparing him for life on the outside once they are able to escape. 

The story is divided up into three parts: life in the room, the escape from the room, and life in the "real world." Jack's changing perceptions of the world around him are thus a huge focus of the narrative, contrasting his limited experiences with his growing awareness of things that most other people would take for granted. 

I really enjoyed this book. I honestly could not stop reading it--you become so invested in the story that you need to find out what happens. Jack is such a wonderful, endearing narrator, and is the reason that the books succeeds as well as it does. In the hands of a less talented author, or with a different narrator, the story could have failed, mainly because the plot-lines are a bit predictable. But Jack is so well-written and so realistic that you can't help but become attached to him and his story. I though Donoghue did an incredible job at capturing the voice of a five-year-old, but at the same time creating a narrator who is appealing to adults. I was slightly apprehensive when I realized that Jack's voice would be the only one we hear throughout the book, simply because I wasn't sure how well that would hold up--I thought that it would get annoying or tiring to read after a certain point. I really didn't find that to be the case at all, though, mostly because Jack is so three-dimensional. He is such a well-written character, and Donoghue allows him to develop like any adult character. She does an incredible job of portraying his way of seeing the world. 

I also think this book has such a great balance of emotions--there is no black and white. All instances of joy are counterbalanced by really dark moments of anger or sadness, all wonder and awe is contrasted with disorientation and confusion. Donoghue really makes an incredibly distant scenario feel relatable and personal by giving the characters such nuanced perceptions and feelings.

I highly recommend this novel. The plot is very basic, but Donoghue is such a wonderful writer and truly brings her characters and the worlds they inhabit to life that the plot almost takes a backseat. The character of Jack alone makes this book worth the read. 


  1. I also liked hearing Jack's voice, (and this reminds me -- need to go correct my review because I keep talking about this mom as the narrator!) but it also drove me crazy at times because I think the "voice" was so unlike a five-year-old who's been raised by someone with an education -- even if he is kept in utter isolation for those five years. It was a quick read though, and mostly enjoyable!

  2. I loved this book too. I gave it to my sister-in-law for Christmas and she sat and read it all day until she had finished it. I think it's a unique and beautifully written perspective on an oft-covered and exploited subject.