Monday, June 20, 2011


With Room, Emma Donoghue set out to do something quite difficult, write a full-length thriller entirely from the point-of-view (and in the words) of a five-year-old child.  And not just any five-year-old – this little boy has spent literally every single moment of his life confined to the 121 square foot room in which he was born.  The only window in the room is a skylight through which he occasionally gets a glimpse of the sun or moon, or the leaves that fall onto it once in a great while.  The only person he has ever spoken to is his mother, although the boy does sometimes gets a sneak peak at Old Nick from the wardrobe in which he hides when Nick comes to visit Ma late at night.

Unbeknownst to Jack, his mother has not seen the outside of Room for the seven years she has been Old Nick’s prisoner.   Without Jack, Ma would have no reason to go on living.  She has created an entire world for the boy inside this small space, a world in which she is the source of all knowledge, love, and support.  The outside world makes its way into Room only because Old Nick allows the pair a small television set, but Ma is the one who decides what Jack will watch and how what he sees will be interpreted for him.  Imagine a world in which Room is all that is real, and everything seen on television is make-believe.  That is the way Jack sees the world.

Room reaches the gut-wrenching stage when Ma decides that it is time to escape the little prison in which she and her son have been trapped for so long.  Try as she might to come up with alternate plans, escape seems impossible without Jack’s willingness to face Old Nick.  But even if she is able to convince Jack to go along with her plan, Ma knows that they will have only one shot at escaping Old Nick; failure means death for both of them.

Emma Donoghue
For the most part, Donoghue’s idea to filter what the reader knows and sees through the eyes of a small boy works remarkably well.  One comes to admire Ma, as seen through his innocent eyes, as she seeks new ways to educate and entertain her young son; the woman takes recycling to a high level as she creates toys for her son from every bit of packaging material that Old Nick allows to enter Room.  Part of the fun, too, comes from following Jack’s evolving logic as he combines what he sees on television and reads in his little books with what his mother tells him about the world.  Through Jack’s innocent eyes, often come basic life truths that adults sometime have forgotten.

Having Jack narrate Room generally works pretty well for Donoghue.  There is more of a problem with the key element in the book’s plot, something most readers are likely to find it difficult to believe would be possible knowing what they know about Jack.  It is a plot twist I cannot discuss in any detail because doing so would require me to reveal the book’s biggest spoiler.  However, Room is so unusual that I am perfectly willing to put aside plot details if that allows me to get inside Jack and Ma’s world for a few hours.  This one is definitely worth a look.

Rated at: 4.0  


  1. I think you've just convinced me to read this, so thank you!

  2. Nik, do let me know what you think, if you would. This one is different enough that I wonder how others will see it. Thanks.

  3. I'm so glad you read it, and I'm really glad that your review kept out any spoilers. It's a difficult book to write about since you can't say much because you don't want to spoil it.

  4. It was certainly interesting, Susan...not a book That I will forget any time soon.

  5. Such an excellent review, Sam, thank you.
    Emma Donoghue is truly one of my favorite authors, and amazingly, I have not yet read this one. I think I have read all of her other books. Slammerkin and Life Mask are among my fave-books of all time. I might add that in personal correspondence with Emma Donoghue, she has always been so gracious and generous. A truly wonderful person, and terrific author.

  6. Thanks for the nice words, Cip, and the recommendations on Donoghue's other two books. I'll check those out...

  7. This is the story of the captivity and escape of Jack and his Ma. (Side note.. reading Jaycee Dugard's memoir reminded me of this book) The author succeeds in describing the "room" and the daily activities that make up life for Jack and Ma in the room.
    Being curious, I wish there were more details surrounding the capture of Ma that resulted in her captivity.