198. Room by Emma Donoghue

Room by Emma Donoghue (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 321 pages
Ages: 18+
Finished: Sept. 21, 2010
First Published: Sept. 7, 2010 CAN (Sept. 13, 2010 USA)
Publisher: Harper Collins Canada
Genre: literary fiction
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Today I'm five.

Acquired: Received a review copy from the publisher.

Reason for Reading: With this subject matter, who is *not* wanting to read this book?

A 26 year old woman has been kidnapped and held captive in a soundproof, escape-proof 11 x 11 foot Room for 7 years. She has a five year old son, Jack. She cares for him fiercely and has created a world for him out of that Room, giving him everything she possibly can that he needs to grow properly, physically and emotionally. They do daily exercises, she teaches him, etc. This is their story, of their day-to-day life, their escape and how they cope on the Outside. A truly fascinating story to start with is only topped by the fact that it is told in the first person narrative of five year old Jack.

I'm going to start by saying this is a hard review for me to write. I agonized over my rating. There is not a doubt that Room is a wonderful piece of writing. The subject matter is enticing and the reality of the situation has been explored to such detail that one is amazed the author could have thought of some things without having actually experienced captivity herself. The book is divided into distinct sections, each one focusing intensely on a certain stage of Jack and Ma's story. Donoghue has managed to write about a horrific situation without ever actually putting in print any scenes that show the obvious s*xual violence that was perpetrated. In the hands of a lesser author this could have become a much more graphic story thus losing Ms. Donoghue's perceptive touch. The book reads fast, is compelling and is tremendously well written.

So why is this review hard to write? I didn't love the book. Yes, it was good. Good enough to keep me reading, and reading quickly too. The second half was better than the first, as in enjoying the story and the characters. I really enjoyed the introduction of Grandpa Leo, Steppa. He was the most real character in the whole book. I often found myself annoyed while reading the book. The child's narrative just didn't win me over. I didn't hate it but it felt detached somehow and thus I felt detached from the characters. I never had any great emotional response to the boy and his mother, which I *really* wanted to have. None of the other characters were fully developed, even Steppa , but he at least had the behaviour of a real person and came to life for me.

As you can see I had problems with the book, while appreciating it. Now that I've finished it, my immediate response is "Yeah, it was good." I wouldn't grab people and say you *must* read this book, but if anyone asked me I'd recommend it with my reservations as noted above. I may feel differently about my rating a month (a year) from now but it's been 6 days since I've written this review and I still feel the same way. Very well written, but only good, not great.


  1. Yes, I didn't love this book either. I still really liked it, but it had some problems for me. I didn't mention it in my own review, but reading yours makes me think that part of my problem was I never really connected with the mother or child. There was just something that I could not get passed...

  2. Thanks for an honest review. It must have been a tough book to read anyway.

  3. I really want to read this book. You make good points about it being hard to read. Thanks for the honest review.

  4. I was really hoping all the hype wouldn't ruin this book for me. I am glad that wasn't the case, but I can definitely understand your reservations.

  5. I agree with your thoughts. I did care about the boy and his mom, but didn't particularly like either of them.

  6. This book seems quite divisive and I'm yet to read it. I've read so many reviews that recommend it while so many others seem to feel the way you did. It will be hard to be objective considering the hype, but I guess the hype I've read is more about the subject matter than the writing. Great review!

  7. I haven't read this, but I recently finished another Donaghue title, The Sealed Letter, and I experienced exactly the same thing. The writing is superior, the story is very well told, and yet I didn't really connect with the characters.


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