ROOM By Emma Donoghue [Review]

room by emma donoghue book cover

I had known about Emma Donoghue’s novel ROOM for quite some time, but I resisted reading it because the premise—a woman (Ma) has been imprisoned in a small windowless room for seven years since she was abducted at nineteen, and she now shares her prison with her five-year old son Jack—sounded too much like an especially disturbing episode of ‘Criminal Minds.’ Then a friend bought it for me, and if there is a book around, I will read it, and when it is as absorbing as Room, I will read it in a day, which is exactly what I did.

‘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?”‘ From the first paragraph of Room, we are transported into Jack’s world because the entire novel is told from his perspective. Jack doesn’t realize Room is a prison or that his father is a rapist. He only knows Ma and Rug and Meltedy Spoon. His world is a happy one, even as we learn through him that it is anything but for Ma. Donoghue gives life to this world in a unique and surprisingly beautiful way.

After a harrowing middle section, Jack’s world expands and we see what Outside means to a boy who has only known Room. The book does lose some of its unique voice, but it’s fascinating to watch Jack learn. I love looking at the world a little bit differently because of him and there is a thought-provoking exploration into what it means to be free and what it means to love. Jack and Ma’s struggles are heartbreaking, uplifting, and satisfying.

On the down side, Jack’s stream-of-consciousness narration can be wearing and it’s difficult to reconcile his baby talk with his knowledge of words like depersonalization and omnivore. I also don’t think the book delves deeply enough into the unease Jack feels in Outside or the messy emotions surrounding the difference between closeness and too-closeness.

Room is a surprisingly light and easy read given its dark subject matter. At times it might be too light and one has to wonder if it does Elisabeth and Felix Fritzl, the story’s inspiration, a disservice. While Jack’s cheerfulness serves Room well, I cannot imagine it translating into a real world situation

Overall, I think Room is a touching, eye-opening journey, but it isn’t for everyone. Despite its mostly upbeat tone, this is some dark territory and Donoghue effectively builds a sense of dread that can be hard to shake and Jack’s voice may become more irritating than enjoyable in your head, thus lessening any impact the story might have on you. If you don’t mind the premise and want to read an interesting take on love, the resilience of a child, and the world as whole, Room is a good bet.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars | Publisher: Little, Brown and Company | Pages: 336 | Source: Purchased | Buy on Amazon

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