Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

November 17, 2010 General Fiction, Little, Brown & Company, Review 22


  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (September 13, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 0316098337
  • Source: BEA
  • Jack is a five-year-old boy who enjoys doing everything a boy of that age does: color, watch his favorite shows on TV and play games. The difference with Jack? He and his mother, affectionately known as Ma, have been prisoners in a small 11×11′ shed, referred to as ROOM.  Ma was abducted when she was a teen and impregnated by the man who captured her.  Jack sleeps, closed up in a wardrobe, hidden from the eyes of the man who keeps them locked away. This man, who Jack refers to as Old Nick, provides them with the basics: food, water, & occasional “Sundaytreats.”

    Ma does her best to provide for her son.  She arranges games for him to play in their small confines. Empty egg shells become a snake when strung together.  Jack gets his exercise by running around the bed. However, she knows that this isn’t the life for a little boy, who knows nothing of the outside world.  They plan an escape; Ma is desperate to provide Jack with a chance to breathe fresh air, experience a “real” life.  She remembers what life is like outside and is desperate to have that life once again.

    However, once they make it outside, life isn’t necessarily any easier. Jack, never in contact with germs, is required to wear a mask to prevent him from becoming ill.  The two are temporarily assigned to a psychiatric hospital to help them “assimilate” to life in the real world. Jack doesn’t deal with this transition well; the only person he’s ever known is his mother.  The hustle & bustle of every day life is a shock to him.  He’s never experienced the feeling of grass on his bare feet.  He doesn’t know how to walk up and down stairs. 

    The transition is quite difficult for Ma as well.  In ROOM, she has control over what happens to Jack. Keeping him safe was her utmost concern. She can protect him, but in the outside world she loses this control and loses a bit of what she had become as well. Ultimately, I began to wonder if life was better for Jack & Ma in ROOM?

    Room is a fantastic, yet devastating, novel told through the eyes of a young boy.  Jack is so naive to the real world it is heartbreaking. He refers to “creaking” in his mother’s bed, not realizing that he is describing the nightly rapes she endures when Old Nick pays his nightly visit.

    This book, without a doubt, is one of my favorite of the year.  As author Audrey Niffeneger put it “Room is a book to read in one sitting.  When it’s over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lasts for days.”  For me, that feeling has lasted for months.  I first read Room in September and recently did a reread for a book club meeting.  This book has permanently made a mark on my very soul.  When I finished reading it for the first time, I instantly wrapped my arms around my own five-year old son and thanked God that he would never have to face an experience like this.

    The novel’s web site provides a whole host of additional resources, including a floor plan of ROOM.  Seeing the space they were forced to live in literally brought tears to my eyes.  

    This will be the first time I ever utter this phrase, but I beg you go to out and buy a copy of this book.  Read it.  Talk about it.  You won’t forget it.

    Room was inspired by the true story account of Josef Fritzl, a man who kept his daughter prisoner in the basement of their home in Austria for 24 years.  He raped her repeatedly, resulting in seven children & one miscarriage.

    ROOM, by Emma Donoghue from era404 creative on Vimeo.

    22 Responses to “Review: Room by Emma Donoghue”

    1. NovelWhore
      Twitter: novelwhore

      This book depicts a nightmare. I don’t think I could have endured it from Ma’s perspective, but Jack’s naivety kept me glued to the page. This is one of those books I have a hard time saying I “enjoyed” – but it was impactful (I realize that’s not a real word) and unforgettable and like you, I tell everyone I know to read it.

    2. Gayle

      OMG, hadn’t seen the floor plan of the room. Wow. That only underscores the claustrophobic (though womblike) feeling of the Room. I agree – incredible book. So glad you re-read it and posted!

    3. Teresa
      Twitter: teresasreading

      I had no idea that it was inspired by a true story. While I imagined what ROOM was like, actually seeing the floor plan made me feel a little panicky.

    4. Martha

      I really want to read this book and what a great review. Though I think given the subject matter I’m going to wait until after the holidays.

    5. nomadreader (Carrie)
      Twitter: nomadreader

      Hooray! Another advocate for Room! It is one of my all-time favorites, and I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I hope your book club went well too!

    6. Sherry Mayer

      This sounds very intriguing I am sure it will be on my TBR list soon Thanks for the review

    7. Rebecca Rasmussen

      Dang — I knew I had to read this book, but now I have to run out and get it today — You convinced me. Awesome review!

    8. Andrew Wetzel
      Twitter: CircleReader

      From the book’s website:

      Strange as it might seem, I found that writing historical fiction was the ideal preparation for Room. I decided that, as much as any medieval peasant or eighteenth-century prostitute, Jack should take his peculiar environment for granted. The main difference was that this time I did my research not in archives and libraries but almost entirely online, and the first whole week of it, I kept bursting into tears. I forced myself to study the details of many cases of kidnapping for sexual purposes from all over the world, and message boards gave me a fascinating lens into what these news stories mean to their audience. I flinched through every website I could find about children raised in limited or abusive settings — those who are left stunted, and others who are granted miraculous happy endings. I read about mothers and babies in prisons today and in Nazi concentration camps; about unassisted birth, children conceived by rape, family psychology, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

    9. Amy
      Twitter: Amestir

      This is a great review! I’m amazed at the impact this book had on you & that you have read it twice already. That definitely sys something about the kind of book this is! I’m going to be reading the book as part of the Crazy Book Tours. I’m so anxious to read it, though, I’ve almost run out & purchased the book! lol Instead I’m going to buy one of the author’s other books, many of which sound very worth reading.

      ~ Amy

    10. S. Krishna
      Twitter: skrishna

      I definitely thought this book was powerful. I can only imagine how much more powerful it would be, having a five year old son. Great, great review.

    11. Jenny

      I hadn’t seen the floor plan! That’s really cool, although I can’t imagine how they did any running around that room.

    12. Dawn - She Is Too Fond of Books
      Twitter: toofondofbooks

      great review of a great book. Great doesn’t even do it justice … really, phenomenal. I listened to the audio, but it’s the rare case that I’ll read the print edition as well. Donoghue did a fantastic job with Jack’s voice – it was true.

      I hadn’t read the extras on the website, thanks for pointing us to them.

    13. Aarti
      Twitter: aartichapati

      This book was very powerful when I read it earlier this year. I am glad it had such an impact on you, too! I didn’t know about the website extras- thanks for the info!

    14. iubookgirl
      Twitter: iubookgirl

      Thanks for reinforcing the fact that I HAVE to read this book even though I know it will be difficult for me.