Room by Emma Donoghue

‘Room’ tells the harrowing story of Ma, kidnapped seven years ago by captor Old Nick and her five year old son Jack who are imprisoned in a single room.  Partially inspired  by Josef Fritzl’s incarceration of his daughter, there are no real surprises to the plot of this novel if you are familiar with the background of this case.  But whereas the hysterical media coverage of such crimes often focuses as much if not more on the abusers than the abused, Donoghue has wisely chosen to focus on the story of Ma and Jack rather than Old Nick who only makes brief appearances throughout.

For Ma, Room is a prison where she has been abused and raped.  But for Jack, Room is home and he knows nothing else. It is his struggle to deal with the alien concept of Outside that is the most affecting aspect of the book.  As well as writing very convincingly on this subject, Donoghue is also excellent at building suspense and evoking the claustrophobia of solitary confinement.

The story is told from the point of view of Jack whose language and intelligence levels I thought were a little inconsistent for a five year old. However, once the pace picked up, I soon found myself hooked.  Even though I still have my doubts about the plausibility of Jack’s character, I do think it was more effective to have him as the narrator than from any other perspective.  In some ways though, his innocence makes the already harrowing subject matter even more disturbing but thankfully avoids mawkishness.

Avoiding both sensationalism and over-sentimentality, ‘Room’ is a gripping book that will stay with the reader for a long time afterwards.


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24 responses to “Room by Emma Donoghue

  1. Cassie

    I never finished this book, but I’d like to know what happened in the end. I should read it because so many people love it, but I just couldn’t get into it.


  2. I’m the same, at the moment I’m about twenty pages in but it’s not getting anywhere! It’s on my list to read though. Is it worth sticking out ’til the end?


  3. A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff

    Yeah I would say if you don’t get into it by the second chapter then it’s probably not for you… I guess it’s not surprising that the beginning is slow given the setting!


  4. RennyRoo

    Hi Hannah and Cassie, my opinion is that it is worth to keep reading because the book is fantastic. I haven’t done my review of this book yet but I completely agree with what is written here. I personally found it fascinating how Ma managed to make everything into a play so Jack never really suffers from the imprisonment. Or it might be better to say that he never realises how limited his world is and he is never exposed to Old Nick. It is brilliantly written and I hope you will give it one more go 😉 Renny


  5. Ti

    I ending up not liking this one at all. I know I am the minority as most readers were really taken with it but…. SPOILER ALERT!

    No mother would put her kid in that position as a solution. I found that to be a ridiculous solution and Jack’s voice wasn’t authentic enough for me.


  6. I teach 5 year olds and didn’t find the same inconsistencies as you did. I did appreciate the point of of the child because it was less frightening for me. I loved this book and often thought about trauma interms of my students. It was an eye opener for me and how it effects those little ones.


  7. I read this book a couple of years ago and your review took me back to how I felt about it too. This was a tough read for me and I remember being elated when they escaped.


  8. I read this book awhile ago and reviewed it on my blog. I remember being not very impressed with it.


  9. I thought it was a tremendously good book. One of the best depictions of a mother character I’ve ever read.


  10. I read it a while ago and loved it. I thought the characters were well written and the way Jack and Ma look at Room completely different, was amazing – how everything in Room was special to Jack because he never knew anything else. I think it’s definitely a book worth finishing.


  11. I’ve heard about this one and think it might be too creepy for me, but I enjoyed your review 🙂


  12. Thanks for visiting my blog – I saw this and had to come see what you said. I had the opportunity of seeing Donoghue read parts of Room and it was fascinating – she shared her thought processes and research as well. I enjoyed the novel and it was definitely a U-turn from her other works.


  13. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I’m 20 or so pages in at the mo & am enjoying the innocence of this young boy. Old Nick has been mentioned a couple of times so far & the boy isn’t ignorant & knows that his mother doesnt like talking about him so it’s starting to gain my interest.


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