Sunday, January 9, 2011

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room: A NovelTitle: Room
Author: Emma Donoghue
Pages: 336
Published:  2010 Little, Brown & Co.
Read For: Independent Literary Awards
Rating: 3.5 stars

This is my first book read for the Indie Lit Awards.  I read it before the others simply because it was the only one of the 5 finalists that my local bookstore had in stock at the time.  I've just finished reading Great House by Nicole Krauss, and am starting C by Tom McCarthy.  It has been so much fun so far, reading the 5 books that book bloggers considered the best of 2010.

"Room" is what 5 year old Jack calls the 11' x 11' space that he and his mother are kept in.  It is the only "real" he has ever known; his mother has taught him that everything on TV is pretend, and seeing as she is the only person that he is ever in contact with, (apart from Old Nick, their captor,) he has no reason to think otherwise.  He doesn't mind, though.  He loves their routines, loves his mother, and has a difficult time understanding why his mother does not feel the same.

The two worries I had going into the book were both unjustified.  First, I was worried that the story, being told from Jack's point of view, would have an unstable narrative voice--one of my peeves, I must admit.  I was sure I was going to find inconsistencies in his age and how much he understood, but I really didn't.  He definitely had his own way of talking, areas of brilliancy and areas of simplicity, but every time I caught myself wondering how accurate it was, I had only to think of the speech patterns of my 6 year old daughter and I had to admit that I could probably imagine encountering a little person like Jack.

Second, I was worried that the details of Jack's mother and their captivity were going to represent the recent Jaycee Dugard case.  I lived for years in South Lake Tahoe, where Jaycee was stolen from, and didn't much like the idea that her trauma had been fictionalized.  Fortunately, this fear was unfounded as well.  The characters in the book were different, the circumstances were different, and once I got into the story I hardly thought about it anymore.

This is a book that one reads for the plot, for the storyline.  It is one of those books that kept me turning pages to see what would happen.  I was rooting for Jack and his momma to make an escape, I felt a touch of the claustrophobia and helplessness tied to their situation.  And although I didn't feel like I got to know any of the characters as well as I would have liked to, I did enjoy reading Jack's thoughts and feelings.  I've always wished I could read my kiddos thoughts and feelings more exactly!  It is very possible that we got to know Jack as well as he knew himself--I'm willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt and admit that having Jack be more observant and self-realized may have been less accurate.

It was also one of those books that--upon finishing it--disappeared from my mind rather quickly.  It didn't hover over me afterwards, asking me to contemplate, to consider.  It didn't haunt me like it could have, especially considering the subject.  There weren't any passages that were written so amazingly that I wanted to stop and savor them, there weren't any deeper themes sufficiently addressed as to cause deeper thought.  While I'm willing to concede that the self-awareness displayed by Jack may have been accurate, I cannot help but think that it would have been possible for the writing to cause you to think more, without sacrificing the narrative voice.

I think what it boils down to for me, as far as my taste in literary fiction, is that I expect literary fiction to make me ponder some complex themes that stick with me and pester me (or leave me in wonderment) for some time.  Room didn't quite do this.  It was an entertaining book with an interesting perspective, but it left me more eager to read the other Award Finalists rather than more Emma Donoghue.  That is not to say that you shouldn't pick it up, I think there is a reason it has appealed to so many people.  If you are up for a unique story, give it shot.


  1. This book keeps coming up in reviews and people tend to agree about it I find. It is still on my TBR list, but not one of my priorities. I'll pick it up when I find an affordable copy, but I'm sure I'll be glad to read it.

  2. It really didn't take me long to read, so it might be a nice book to slip in between some longer, more intensive books.

  3. I found it to be really engrossing, but I see what you mean about the literary fiction aspect - the fact that there were no true literary themes to ponder makes sense. It's nice to see a different perspective! Also, I received My Antonia last week. Thank you, and I look forward to reading it!

  4. Due to your review now I have mixed feelings! Since it was shortlisted for the Booker I thought I would give it a try, buy many bloggers have hated it, so.. I don't know.

    3.5 stars isn't that bad, right?

  5. I really enjoyed reading your perspective on Room. Unlike you, I consider this book to be one of the best I'd read in 2010. While I agree with you that the prose style itself wasn't exquisitely crafted and wouldn't stand on its own merits, I actually think it's rather an extraordinary feat of storytelling to have created and sustained such a narrator in 5 year old Jack. He annoyed the heck out of me at times, but so do most five year olds I have extensive contact with. And I think the psychological honesty was unflinching, too. I don't want to give any spoilers here, but Donoghue's handling of the mother's response to the TV interviewer's unauthorized question was particularly poignant and devastating. So I guess for me, the literary content was definitely there, just not in the writing itself. But thank goodness we don't all love the same things, right?

  6. Bailey--I found it engrossing also, and done well too. I was just hoping for something to mull on afterwards and didn't really find it. Hope you enjoy My Antonia!

    booksandreviews--3.5 isn't that bad! :) Coming from me, that's an above average score. You should give it a doesn't take long to read and you'll know pretty quickly whether you are interested or not.

    As the Crowe Flies and Reads--thanks for taking the time to leave me your opinion. I'm glad you brought up the interview scene, because you are right-it was done very well. Perhaps I never found a specific piece of writing that amazed me, but the fact that I never found anything to scoff at says something too, considering the narrator and topic (the fact that I was kind of looking for something). Anyhow, I'm happy that you've added something to make me reconsider. :)

  7. I've read several rave reviews of this book lately. I'm glad I read yours, too, though. The raves have left me with the feeling that this book might be too emotionally intense for my liking, so your perspective makes me think I might pick it up after all.

  8. I gave the book 4 (of 5) stars because the ending wasn't as satisfying as the rest of the book; my students have tended to agree with that, but they've all loved it enough to recommend it to others.

  9. Amy--I think that the fact that it is told from Jack's POV, instead of his moms, makes it a little less intense in the traditional sense. Not to say that you don't feel for what's going on, but it is just removed somewhat from the brunt of the impact.

    Lazygal--I agree with you about the ending. The book seemed to lose some of its clarity and brightness. Thanks for linking your review, I enjoyed reading it!


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