4 stars,  contemporary fiction

Review: ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue

Date finished: 16 July 2011

Rating: 4 stars

Format: eBook

Source: Bought

Genre: Contemporary fiction

Published: by Picador in August 2010

The Synopsis (taken from Waterstones.com)

It’s Jack’s birthday, and he’s excited about turning five. Jack lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures 11 feet by 11 feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until the day Ma admits that there’s a world outside …

Told in Jack’s voice, Room is the story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible.

The Review

This is one of the reviews you sit down to write and think, ‘What is there left to say about this book?’. It’s been a huge success and reviewed widely both on blogs and in newspapers and magazines. I believe it also featured on the UK series ‘The TV Book Club’.

So what is it about this book that has captured (and held) the attention of so many? In my opinion, it’s Jack; the narrator that will break your heart.

Jack’s perception of the ‘world’ is mesmerising. Having experienced nothing but Room for five years, Jack believes that there is nothing beyond it that is real and, as a result, treats the items in Room almost as the friends he can’t have:

I flat the Chairs and put them beside Door with Clothes Horse. He always grumbles and says there’s no room but there’s plenty if he stands up really straight...

I choose Meltedy Spoon with the white all blobby on his handle when he leaned on the pan of boiling pasta by accident. Ma doesn’t like Meltedy Spoon but he’s my favourite because he’s not the same

This novel is extremely well-judged and sympathetic. The relationship between Jack and his mother is poignant and painfully realistic. Jack’s Ma manages not only to live in a nightmarish situation but to give her son love, security and a life, however restricted and misconceived it might be. Another of the aspects that deserves praise is how, through Jack’s eyes, the more mature reader can see the cruelty and malice of their captor even when Jack can’t see it himself.

Beyond Room…? That you’ll have to see for yourself!

The only minor downside was that constantly reading in a child’s voice became hard at times because it was so accurate – if I wasn’t completely immersed in the story, I found myself stumbling and correcting it in my head (I know, I know – it’s stupid…). Mostly, it adds to the haunting tone but ever so occasionally, I wanted to be outside of a five-year-old’s head. Only occasionally, though, so don’t let that put you off.

Overall: Despite being a book about something truly abominable, the story of Jack and his Ma is remarkably subtle and about more than just the evil that perpetuates their circumstances. It’s about how Jack learns and how he loves and how he and his Ma are some of the best characters you will read in a long time. It’s one of the best portrayals of maternal love I have ever read and both beautiful and terrifying. If the ending doesn’t make you well up, I don’t know what will!

Similar read: If you read and liked The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, this has a similar charm of self-discovery, parental love and quirky narrative and I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending Room to you.