Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Room, by Emma Donoghue

For a long time I was scared to read this book. The premise seemed so horrifying that I couldn't bear to open it, despite its fabulous reviews. I'm so glad I changed my mind.

I do a fair amount of reading, and I am constantly amazed by authors who reimagine the world in totally new ways. This is a family story unlike any I have ever read; despite the odd circumstances, Emma Donoghue tells of a an existence that is as measured and predictable as any other. She gets at the truth of our relationships to one another, and at the broad range of reactions to trauma  among different people.

The basic story is that of Jack and Ma. They live in an 11'x11' room. Ma has been held prisoner here for seven years, since the age of nineteen, but to Jack, Room is the world. It's filled with all the things they want and need, and the rest of the world is relegated to to being "only tv." The story is told by Jack, and opens on his fifth birthday. So here we have two really incredible authorial feats: making this situation seem believable, and telling a complex story using the diction of a pretty literate five year old. Emma Donoghue pulls it off on both counts.

I really love the manner in which the author tracks reactions to this odd and terrible situation. Ma is an exemplary parent, whose ability to create a very normal life for her child, despite their situation, is admirable.  She's damaged, though; how could she avoid it? As the story progresses, we see the ripple effect of the one incredible central fact of the story, namely that a monster trapped a child, then that child's child, in a tiny room, indefinitely.

I absolutley refuse to spoil a moment of this book for any future readers, so I will just tell you to read it, read it, read it. You will be amazed.

This is a 3D image of Room, which will give you an idea of the scope of Jack and Ma's world. Wow. Tiny. Here is a short interview with the author, in which she explains how she created Jack, and gave him his extraordinary voice.


  1. I started this book and just couldn't read it. I didn't sleep well at night, dreaming of ways they might escape! I think the only way I can finish it is if I know there is a happy ending (or happy enough) but no one I know has read it!

  2. I was fortunately able to read the whole thing in two sittings, so I didn't have to worry so much. I hate to spoil, but the ending is very positive!