Emma Donoghue – Room

Posted on | August 24, 2010 | 14 Comments

Emma Donoghue's RoomThis is probably one of the most gripping books I’ve read this year. I almost feel guilty that I didn’t take Audrey Niffenegger’s advice, scrolled across the book cover:

Room is a book to read in one sitting.

That’s what working life does to you, I guess. I did read the last fifty pages or so at work though, ignoring the people who asked me if I was there to work or read. Hopefully, even they figured it was a rhetorical question. Anyway, as I couldn’t agree more with the rest of the quote, I thought I might as well share it:

When it’s over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lingers for days.

Room is a novel “triggered” by Felix Fritzl, the five year old son of Elisabeth Fritzl. Elisabeth was locked in the basement by her father for twenty-four years,  raped repeatedly and had seven children. Three of them were imprisoned with her, and the five year old had no clue about the world beyond the basement they were locked in.

Normally, one would expect such a book to be a money-making gimmick, with the author milking the tragedy of another family. Realising that it was narrated by the five year old might add to that sentiment. However, with Room, Donoghue creates a wonderful “unputdownable” novel, with great insights and contemplations from the five year old, Jack, who was under the impression that the world existed in his eleven feet by eleven feet room he lived in with his mother (Ma), and had no clue as to the reality beyond the locked door and the skylight.

Ma, a twenty-seven year old, protects him and tries to bring him up right, by schooling him with the limited resources she has at her disposal. So, Jack’s narration is actually reasonably articulate, although it is still from the viewpoint of a five year old, who has never experienced life outside the closed quarters of the room, and initially thinks himself and his mother are the only two human beings in the world. He has “friends” in the television, but as far as he’s concerned, that’s not real.

This morning it’s Dora, yippee. She’s on a boat that nearly crashes into a ship, we have to wave our arms and shout, “Watch out,” but Ma doesn’t. Ships are just TV and so is the sea except when our poos and letters arrive. Or maybe that actually stop being real the minute they get there.

Animals are TV except ants and Spider and Mouse, but he’s gone back now. Germs are real, and blood. Boys are TV but they kind of look like me, the me in Mirror that isn’t real either, just a picture.

In a way, it’s almost a  relief that the book is written through the eyes of the child, and not the mother, for, if it was written through the eyes of the mother, it might have been one of the most heart-wrenchingly painful and scary reads. The innocence of Jack alleviates the horror of this book a great deal, as he doesn’t understand some of the more delicate issues that his mother has to deal with, in her captivity.

When Old Nick creaks Bed, I listen and count fives on my fingers, tonight it’s 217 creaks. I always have to count till he makes that gaspy sound and stops. I don’t know what would happen if I didn’t count, because I always do.

After he turns five, Ma finally tells him about Outside, but unsurprisingly, Jack doesn’t believe his mother initially, and who can blame them? If you’ve known only one world for five years, and you’re suddenly “unlied” to, and told about the wonders of a whole new world which exists, but you were never aware of, how would you react? It’s too strange, too surreal, to be true, and I really felt for Jack when he was told the truth, and subsequently become the focal point of his mother’s grand escape plan, which “scaved” (a “wordsandwich” meaning scared and brave) him!

More themes about society and values emerge as the book progresses, and each one evokes an emotion of either sadness or anger or sympathy. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but from the start of the book, when you’re made aware of the situation, you can’t help but hope and pray for a happy ending – no adult and no child should ever have to go through that kind of hell.

I was utterly hooked to this book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ve not read a story like this before, and I doubt I’ll come across one even remotely as engrossing and irrepressible as this work by Donoghue.

Have you read Room? Or, any other book by Donoghue? What did you think? Would you recommend any of the others?

And, what do you think are the odds on this book making the Booker shortlist?


14 Responses to “Emma Donoghue – Room”

  1. Coffee and a Book Chick
    August 24th, 2010 @ 3:04 am

    I have read so much on this that I’m so upset with myself that I haven’t read it yet! Okay, so I’m a tad bit jealous, I admit! :)

  2. Stephanie
    August 24th, 2010 @ 3:29 am

    I am desperately waiting for this one to appear in my library! I think Donoghue is a great author and this one has been highly lauded this far!

    Oh, and to answer your question, I have read Slammerkin and absolutely loved it. I have another one of her books on my shelves but I forget the name of it and I haven’t read it yet.

  3. She
    August 24th, 2010 @ 4:43 am

    I need to get my hands on this one!

  4. Lija (writer's pet)
    August 24th, 2010 @ 1:05 pm

    So far I’ve only heard good things about Room from the book blogs. Which is your favourite so far from the long-list? Or which one do you think is likely to win?

  5. Aarti
    August 25th, 2010 @ 12:12 am

    I really liked this book, too- it was very gripping! I also really recommend Slammerkin and Life Mask by Donoghue, particularly if you like histfict. TOTALLY different writing style, but very good!

  6. Claire (Paperback Reader)
    August 25th, 2010 @ 4:42 pm

    It is thoroughly gripping and I am recommending it to everyone I know. I liked it for its originality and unique take on a horrific situation that neither sensatiolalised or sentimentalised it.

  7. Jackie (Farm Lane Books
    August 25th, 2010 @ 7:44 pm

    I’m so pleased that you loved this as much as I did!

    I’m really hoping that it makes the Booker short list and based on those I’ve read so far I think it has a good chance, but saying that the best books (ones I enjoy most) tend to get left on the long list. I’ve got my fingers crossed for it!

  8. Ladytink_534
    August 25th, 2010 @ 8:26 pm

    Wow. This sounds like an incredible book. I wonder what kind of emotional scars will that leave on them? Especially the narrator.

  9. Birdy
    August 26th, 2010 @ 5:46 am

    This sounds heart wrenching enough! And I can imagine how gripping it is if you read it at work…

  10. Tricia
    August 29th, 2010 @ 5:58 pm

    Great review! I thought that Room was a unique and well-written book and caused me to look at the world in new ways.
    Based on the other novels I read, I think it deserves to make the shortlist.

  11. Joanna
    September 1st, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

    I’ve heard only good things about this book and from your review it looks like it really is as powerful as it seems. Can’t wait to read it!

  12. anothercookiecrumbles
    September 8th, 2010 @ 9:27 pm

    @ Coffee and Book Chick : Haha, you really should read it. I thought it was fantastic!

    @ Stephanie : Yay! Thanks for letting me know about Slammerkin. Will definitely try getting a copy. Hopefully, your library will get this one soon.

    @ She : Yes, yes you do.

    @ Lija : It would be a toss up between Skippy Dies and this one. Guess a more “literary” book will win though – maybe the Peter Carey (which I haven’t read) or the Mitchell (which I did read, and quite enjoyed). Pity that it’s not oft’ that the books you love win!

    @ Aarti : Thanks for the suggestions Aarti. Added them to my wishlist. My self-imposed book buying ban ends in about ten days, so, it’ll be time to go crazy! :D

    @ Claire (Paperback Reader) : I agree with you – it was, in fact, such a simple straightforward book, that it’s amazing how much emotion it packed in!

    @ Jackie : I know what you mean about the best books being left on the long list. Still can’t get over how The Wilderness, How To Paint A Dead Man and Heliopolis didn’t make the cut last year!! I have my fingers crossed for this one too.

    @ Ladytink_534 : Thanks for commenting on my blog for the first time. It’s fiction, but I really wouldn’t want to think about the emotional scars on the victims….

    @ Birdy : Haha, I read a lot at work, so that’s not altogether surprising! It’s just that I’m not normally completely oblivious to everyone around me… but yea, this was heart-wrenching.

    @ Tricia : Thanks! I agree with you, and really hope it makes the shortlist. Don’t think it’s got what it takes to win though… maybe I’ll be proven wrong?!

    @ Joanna : Hopefully, you’ll read it soon, and will love it as much as me (and some of the other commenters on here). I’ve not seen a single negative review about this book yet.

  13. Bookie Mee | Room by Emma Donoghue
    September 9th, 2010 @ 3:10 pm

    […] reviewed by Farm Lane Books Blog | Paperback Reader | another cookie crumbles | BookLust | Stuff As Dreams Are Made On No Comments Tags: Cancel ReplyWrite a […]

  14. Literary Kitty
    July 25th, 2011 @ 10:22 am

    Totally agree. Room was AMAZING!

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