Book Review: ROOM By Emma Donoghue

Disturbing, Compelling and Confronting.

When I first picked it up, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Room. The cover, with its year 4 student-like illustration, made it seem like a secondary school reader.  But the comments, plastered on both sides of both covers, as well as on the title page ( making it 6 pages of quote-tastic praise) made it seem otherwise.  “Deeply deeply disturbing” wrote A.N. Wilson.  “This book will break your heart” claims the Irish Times.  “Gut-wrenchingly compassionate” writes the Daily Mail.  I knew this was a book I had to read.

It had also come so highly recommended, both on book review sites and by friends, that I thought it must be definitely worth my time reading.  And I was not disappointed.

The first fifty pages were, perhaps, the most difficult to make sense of.  The story was confronting, the language gramatically incorrect, and there were too many questions and too few answers.  It was then I realised that this story was being told from the point of view of a five year old boy, Jack.  Donoghue has expertly crafted this story, maintaining the authenticity of the five-year-old’s narration through the grammar, simple words and inquisitive behaviours. But despite this narration, the story proved to be one of the most confronting and disturbing novels I have ever read.

This review contains spoilers. Stop reading here if you don’t want the story spoiled.

The story starts off inside Room, which we eventually find out is a tiny shed in someone’s backyard, to which Jack has been trapped all his life; and to which ‘Ma’ has been confined for a total of seven years, by a madman kidnapper dubbed ‘Old Nick’. She is unable to escape; the shed is impenetrable; the floor of cork and hardened fencing; the skylight is made of bullet-proof material. The door is steel with a lock from the outside.  Jack and Ma’s survival depends on the kidnapper supplying them with electricity and food. He visits during the night, then forgets about them, sometimes cuts off their electricity for days on end. Incredibly disturbing.

We learn of the pain and hardships ‘Ma’ endures as she tries to give Jack the best education and life she can using what little resources she has.  Words are learnt via the TV, and she convinces him that Room is how big the world really is; that everything on TV is not real.  Until Ma needs Jack to execute their ‘great escape’, when he feigns sickness to escape into a world he has never set eyes upon, and alert the authorities to Ma’s kidnapping, he believes the entire world revolves around only four things; Ma, Old Nick, Room and himself.  Jack’s entry and Ma’s return into the world is so moving, these pages will turn themselves deep into the night.

Donoghue’s Room is a truly compelling and original read with strong after-effects.  You will be thinking about it long after you’ve finished.

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Filed under Fiction - Non Australian Literature, Love2Read, National Year of Reading 2012, Starter Reads - Start here if you haven't read a book for a while and dont know what to choose, Top Books of the 21st Century

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