Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Room by Emma Donoghue

Title: Room
Author: Emma Donoghue

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary)
Publisher/Publication Date: Little, Brown and Company (9/13/2010)
Source: My public library

Rating: Liked, much to my surprise!
Did I finish?: Yes, in very nearly record time (three hours).
One-sentence summary: Five-year old Jack recounts life in 'Room', a 12 by 12 shed where he is imprisoned with his mother.
Reading Challenges: British Books 

Do I like the cover?: Yes, although it sort of has a Bad Seed/murderous child feel to it; I vastly prefer the Picador paperback version.

First line: Today I'm five.

Did... I slightly go nuts with toddler overload near the start of the novel?: YES.  Jack's a very toddler-y toddler and for about two minutes, I thought I wouldn't be able to finish the novel, I was so aggravated with the kid!  (Good mom, I am not.)

Did... I often hold my breath during scenes because I was racing through them?: YES.  Some, out of horror (be over, be over!) and some because they were so exciting.

Did... I occasionally forget this book is set in the US?: Yes.  Weird little language things happened now and then that felt British rather than American, like the way Jack and Ma would say 'cunning'. 

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, depending on your fancy -- it's worth a read!

Why did I get this book?: My new book group selected it as their June read, so that prompted me to consider reading it -- but I was convinced after Emma Donoghue's reading in May.

Review: Confession: I was not planning to read Room.  Ever.  I'm a big weenie about violence toward women, and I'm pretty fastidious, so all the sort of earthy details about breastfeeding and poo and pee and giving birth in a shed would be, I was sure, just too much for me. 

But Room, while having such a disturbing premise (and unembarrassed mentions of bodily functions), was remarkably enjoyable.  (Am I totally warped for saying that?)

I'm not going to be able to say anything original about the plot nor the writing, so I won't try. And really, my reading of Room was very much shaped by what I'd heard about it, and what I heard Emma Donoghue say about it. I picked up the book knowing it wasn't going to be as monstrous as a rape thriller, and so I felt safe letting Donoghue take my hand into this horrific situation.

But I have to tell you -- I found the second half of the book more upsetting than the first. If you're going to read Room and the basic gist hasn't been spoiled for you, skip this paragraph now just in case.  While obviously the events in the first part of the book were shocking and horrifying and disturbing, I found I got more agitated at the second half, mostly at Ma's relatives.  I wanted to throttle her father and slap her mother at times; I hated her brother and his wife.  They seemed so callously oblivious!  

The novel ended with a hopeful note that I needed and while I'm still chewing over Jack and Ma (what will they be like in ten years?, etc.), I don't feel utterly traumatized or in need of brain bleach.  I'm not sure Room will be a reread for me the way Donoghue's other books are, but I'm glad I didn't wimp out on this one.  (Thanks, bookclub!)


  1. I was also glad that the book focused more on what happens outside the room than inside. It's funny that sometimes what's most trauamatic are the transitions...Nice review.

  2. The second half of the book was kind of more upsetting, but it's such a difficult situation to be in that I don't think you can really blame her family at all for not having a clue what to say or do (except her dad was a pretty big idiot). I really just loved it so much (in a respect for the story rather than in a creepy perverted love of rape way!) I also found it interesting that you thought cunning was a particularly British thing to say! I don't think I've ever heard anyone say cunning in real life...

  3. It was just so good! But like you I was afraid. I did not want to read about a subject like this one but Jack saved the book for me since we never saw the things. We just knew they happened

  4. The disturbing premise is what turns me off but I've been told by SO many people just to get passed that. It's supposed to be great.

  5. I am going to plead wimpiness and pass, but thank you for reporting from the trenches!

  6. Hooray! I'm so glad you took the plunge and loved this one. It was my favorite read of last year, and my husband is afraid to read it, so perhaps this will give me a little more leverage to convince him:-)

  7. I think I am the only person on the planet who thought the author copped out by telling it from Jack's perspective. BUT...she really did and Jack's toddler self was not all that convincing.

  8. I appreciated your review very much! I keep going back and forth on this book, as I usually do with incredibly successful best-sellers. I'll probably give it a go at some point, but in a few years still :)

  9. I don't plan on reading this one, but I'm glad that it surprised you and that you "enjoyed" reading it, though maybe enjoyed is not the right word here.

  10. I liked this book more than I expected to as well. It took me a little while to adjust to Jack's voice, but once I did, wow!

  11. I've heard so many good things about this book I'm sure I will have to read it... but the premise is a little daunting! I love the way you weigh both the good & the disturbing/off-putting... sounds like it is very well done.

  12. Audra, glad u liked this one. Me too, but Jack was tough to read in those first 50 pages (for me).

  13. I'm actually scared of this book...I'm not a weinie at all but any violence with children involved rips me apart...The Lovely Bones was almost the end of me...I still don't know whether or not I will read it.

  14. I think I am the one person in the world who did not like this book. I found it soooo tedious (I am with you on toddler overload!) and I was really disappointed with the execution overall. I think Donoghue had a really interesting premise to play with and while I can understand why she used the Jack narrator, I definitely think it limited the scope of the novel as a result. If this book had been told from Ma's perspective, I think I would have found it infinitely more interesting and complex. As I said in my review on my blog, there is a reason why more 5 year olds do not publish books...

  15. This was one of my favorite books of last year, and I was super psyched to have gotten the chance to meet Emma Donoghue and tell her how much I loved the book in person. I think I also was more impressed with the second section of the book and the repercussions that living in that shed had on Jack and his mother, but for me the whole book was really amazing. I am glad that you found it interesting as well! Great review!

  16. @Robyn: I think that's exactly it, the transitions are some of the most chilling.

    @Laura: I don't think I've heard anyone say 'cunning' either, except maybe something I've caught on the BBCA.

    @Blodeuedd: Yes -- I was telling a friend I needed that distance from the events -- were it from Ma's viewpoint it would have been too much for me.

    @Michelle: I totally understand. At least there's no violence toward Jack (other than being imprisoned, of course) although what Ma has to live through makes me shivery still.

    @Danielle: Believe me, I understand!

    @Carrie: I know -- until I read it, I didn't believe it was possible to enjoy!

    @Ti: Thanks for sending your review of Room to me -- I need to check it out. For me, having the story being told from Jack's viewpoint gave me enough distance to not wholly freak out about what was happening to Ma.

    @Llevinso: Thank you -- and I hear ya on back-and-forthing on best sellers. I never like them as much as the world seems to (like The Time Traveler's Wife).

    @Serena: Exactly -- it seems odd to say this was a good book, but it wasn't an awful book (for me).

    @Kathy: Yes -- I almost put the book down when I thought I couldn't take Jack -- but then I quickly enjoyed his quirkiness!

    @bookspersonally: 'Daunting' is exactly how I'd describe the prospect of reading this book -- and like a crazy evangelist I'm now all DO IT DO IT. ;) Looking forward to your thoughts should you end up picking it up...

    @Diane: Yes, agreed. I told my wife (a nanny) I wasn't sure I could take it!

    @Peppermint: I'm with you on that! Thankfully, there's no violence against Jack as Ma is extremely protective of him, and he comes out relatively unscathed (all things considered). That helped me with reading this novel.

    @Steph: I know that feeling -- I hate The Time Traveler's Wife which everyone else thinks is so romantic and I find generally creepy! Your critique is the one I've read the most from reader/bloggers I know (rather than, like, newspapers) and I totally get it -- for me, Jack's distance from everything is the reason I was able to stomach the story. Had Ma been the narrator, I'm pretty sure it would have been too creepy for me.

    @Heather: Meeting Emma Donoghue is totally a lifetime high -- and the excerpt she had read from Room was the first of it I had heard/read. It's what convinced me to really give the book a try, and I'm glad I did.

  17. wow, record time indeed! i keep meaning to pick this one up and you're nudging me closer to that point. i could use a good book with great pacing for our trip next month! love books like this for travel reading.

  18. So many people have loved this book and said it is a must read. I do have it on my shelf and hope to get to it this summer yet. I look forward to seeing what I think of it.

  19. I'm more put off by the child narrator than the disturbing premise of the book. I wonder what that says about me, lol? Still, I do plan to read this at some point.

  20. LOL! Great review. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, since I had picked it up with trepidation. Jack's voice was not nearly as cloying as I expected. And I found myself totally irritated by Ma's relatives, too.