Room : a novel

by Emma Donoghue

Paper Book, 2011





New York : Back Bay Books, 2011.


It's Jack's birthday and he's excited about turning five. Jack lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures 11 feet by 11 feet. He loves watching TV but he knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real. Until the day Ma admits that there's a world outside.

Media reviews

Room is disturbing, thrilling, and emotionally compelling. Emma Donoghue has produced a novel that is sure to stay in the minds of readers for years to come.
5 more
This is a truly memorable novel, one that can be read through myriad lenses — psychological, sociological, political. It presents an utterly unique way to talk about love, all the while giving us a fresh, expansive eye on the world in which we live.
the book’s second half is less effective than its first. Perhaps this is inevitable given the changed circumstances of the protagonists. The walls that enclosed them also intensified their drama.
Wrenching, as befits the grim subject matter, but also tender, touching and at times unexpectedly funny.
Donoghue's great strength -- apart from her storytelling gift -- is her emotional intelligence. We get just enough information to feel uncomfortable -- and therefore, to question our assumptions about how family life ought to be; and to know that life will always be an unequal struggle.
Jack's tale is more than a victim-and-survivor story: it works as a study of child development, shows the power of language and storytelling, and is a kind of sustained poem in praise of motherhood and parental love.

User reviews

LibraryThing member kidzdoc
In Room I was safe and Outside is the scary.

Jack has just turned five years old. He lives with his mother in Room, a cozy space isolated from Outside. He is happy, as he knows no other life outside of Room. He was born on Rug, reads books and plays with toys that are brought by Old Nick, the only person who visits them. Old Nick comes at night, and Jack must hide in Wardrobe until the man finally leaves his mother in Bed. Jack spends his days playing with Ma, and he loves her deeply, although he is troubled whenever she is Gone, those times where she spends the day in bed.

Jack and Ma escape from Room, and he must adjust to Outside, a place he has only seen on television and heard about from Ma. Doctors poke him, strangers fawn over him and ask him odd questions, and he must adjust to these new strangers that Ma insists are his family. Although everyone insists he will be happier Outside, Jack wants nothing more than to return to Room with Ma.

"Room" is a fascinating look into the life of a young boy as he tries to understand his place in the world, one that is unfamiliar and unsettling. The novel was triggered by the infamous Josef Fritzl case in Austria, in which a man kept his daughter isolated in a basement for 24 years and fathered several children with her before she was eventually rescued. This novel is markedly different from the case, especially in the use of Jack as the narrator throughout the book and the downplaying of the more disturbing aspects of the story. Donoghue does a masterful job in her portrayal of Jack, and his lovable and maddening personality is one that I won't soon forget.
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LibraryThing member cameling
If all you know is life in a single room without windows except for a small skylight in the roof, would you yearn for anything different? This is Jack's life. Jack is a 5 year old living in Room with his mother. You start realizing pretty early on in the book that something's not quite right, although the horror of their lives is only gradually disclosed. Jack only knows life in Room and although he does get to watch TV, he believes that everything on TV is not real. When Jack starts to learn that there are people outside Room who are real, that his mother has a mother and father of her own, the fear of the unknown raises a great deal of anxiety in him.

As they are forced to live in this Room as prisoners, Jack's mother is tireless in building a life in Room that entertains, fascinates and educates her son as best she can, while fiercely protecting Jack from the man who has imprisoned them. While Jack doesn't understand yet that they are prisoners, he's a happy child, but his happiness is contrasted with his mother's occasional quietness as she remembers the life she used to have on the Outside.

Mother and son find a way to escape and what follows is an interesting psychological study in how Jack, having his entire world destroyed, has to learn how to socialize and communicate with others, while learning about the real world they have escaped to. At times he misses Room and wants desperately to return to the place his mother hates. He remembers Room with fondness and it represents his security, while his mother remembers Room the place of her imprisonment, abuse and fear.

This is a page turner, no doubt about it. It makes you contemplate the evil that dwell in some people, the strength and love of a mother for her child and the will to survive.
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LibraryThing member Donna828
Ma and Jack live "like people in a book, and he won't let anybody else read it." 'He' is Old Nick who keeps them captive in a one-room shed. Five-year-old Jack tells this tale of the only world he has known inside Room. It's only when Ma starts talking about Outside that he knows his small world is going to get larger -- and he's not sure that he will like it.

A shocking story is told here, but it loses its jarring edges through the imaginative voice of Jack. Ma's love reaches great depths as she manages to create a nurturing environment for him while she experiences an intolerable situation.

The only small quibble I have is the disparity of an obviously intelligent child with a well-developed vocabulary speaking with such awkward syntax. It doesn't ring true with this ex-teacher; however, the overall achievement of creating an inspirational work out of such grimness helped me overlook this flaw and give it a solid recommendation. After all, the story is more about what he says than how he says it.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Jack is a precocious 5-year-old who has spent his entire life with his mother in an 11x11-foot room. He's never felt the sun on his shoulders, or rain on his face. He's never worn a coat or shoes. But to Jack, Outside is not real; it's only something he sees on TV. Room and Ma are his reality. And so is Old Nick, who brings food, takes out the trash, and metes out "special" items -- like new jeans for Jack -- as "sundaytreat."

Old Nick is a psychopath who kidnapped Ma seven years earlier, held her hostage, and subjected her to repeated acts of rape. Ma is a survivor, largely because of her fierce devotion to Jack. She is determined to give him the most normal life possible, carefully rationing his TV time and using the most ordinary events as educational opportunities. And she never lets Jack know they are captive. But one day, as the result of a minor slip-up, Jack catches on and begins to ask a lot of questions about Outside. The way Ma explains the world, and her response to Jack's growing knowledge, turn this story into an intense survival tale.

Emma Donoghue has been widely praised for Room, especially for her ability to create such an authentic narrator in Jack. The reader sees Outside through his eyes, where everything is new -- a completely different perspective from Ma, who lived Outside before. Jack's voice makes even more clear the stark contrast between confinement and freedom.

Room is a suspenseful novel, but also a story of the profound bond between mother and child. A wonderful book.
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LibraryThing member jolerie
Yeah, but not just--I mean, of course when I woke up in that shed, I thought nobody'd ever had it as bad as me. But the thing is, slavery's not a new invention.
Page 235

The world that Jack calls home is not very large, but it belongs to him and Ma. Old Nick sometimes comes at night with a beep beep, but Jack stays very quiet and still in the wardrobe so he never sees him. Everyday is a slightly different from the day before and because it is all he has ever known, he is comforted and content, except sometimes, he does get a little bored. The outside is not real until one day his mom asked him to play a pretend game of be dead in Rug and then once outside, his goal is to find help so he can free his Ma. The world beyond his Room is larger than he could ever have dreamed and above all, more scary than he imagined possible, but he is now five and that means he is a big boy and big boys pretend to brave, even when they are scared.

Told from the perspective of five year old Jack, the book was disturbing on so many levels. Scary, because sometimes I couldn't tell if I was reading a story straight from the news, or reading a fictional book. Scary because it comes too close to mirroring the realities of our world. Scary because I am a mom. If this book was only about the horrific evils that exist in our society, I know I would have been left with nothing but a sick and queasy lump in my stomach. Surprisingly, what I walk away with is not a hyper need to bar my windows or barricade my doors from the dangers lurking beyond my doorsteps, but rather an appreciation for the love and lengths a mother will go to protect the only thing she deems precious enough to live each agonizing day for. Room was not an easy book to read, but it was a story of devotion and survival worth telling.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
This book has been well reviewed and analyzed by literary critics and book bloggers alike. It's a hard book to summarize because I don't want to give away too much of the plot. So, for this review, I will just share some thoughts on this story:

1) Room is narrated by a five-year-old boy who only knows an 11x11-foot room as his home. He doesn't understand that rain falls from the sky, that cars stay in their lane and that bees can sting you. All the things we understand to be true in our lives would be new experiences to a boy who never spent a day outside. Donoghue did a good job writing about these new experiences - and coming up with all the "little things" that seem to be common knowledge, but not for a boy who lived in seclusion.

2) The American media's treatment of Jack and his mother's story was spot on. Their insistence to not grant this family any privacy reminded me of true media coverage in other heart-wrenching stories. Equally compelling (and so aligned with what happens) is how the media digs at the story from all angles in an attempt to "outscoop" each other. There is little regard for what's best for Jack or his mother.

3) This book was a real page turner. During one section of the book, I did not move from my seat. I was worried that something bad was going to happen, and the suspense was jarring. Few books have that effect on me.

This isn't my typical review, but I hope reading it helps persuade you to give Room a try. It's a compelling, provocative book that makes you think about your life and what you would do in a similar situation. It's worthy of its literary accolades, and I predict that it would make a good movie with the right director and actors. What do you think?
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LibraryThing member tututhefirst
It is easy to see why this was such a talked about book in 2010 and why it was on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize. The writing is exceptional, the story compelling, and the characters so well portrayed that the reader feels they are living the story with them. The story is told entirely in Jack's words, a point of view that brings a fresh and engaging yet terrifying perspective.

ROOM is Jack's world. Jack is a 5 year boy, imprisoned in an 11x11 shed with his mother. Ma was abducted 7 years ago by Old Nick who visits periodically bringing supplies, and especially the "Sunday Treat." Because Jack knows only what is in ROOM, his world image is limited. They have rug, mattress, chair, table, shelf, stove, toilet, bath, wardrobe and rocker, to all of which Jack attaches almost anthropomorphic characteristics. They watch TV, but, with the exception of Dora the Explorer, he views that as "OUTSIDE" and scary, and mostly not real. He cannot conceive of 'others' as real people. The pair bonds in an extraordinary fashion, and while Jack's intellectual development and vocabulary bloom from all the games they play and the TV they watch, his social development is non-existant. He has never spent a minute separated from his mother.

Reading this book is a chilling experience, but one that is very, very satisfying in the end. Having the story told from the viewpoint of a 5 year old whose only experience of the world is through the prism of TV, the five books his mother has managed to con out of Old Nick, or whatever memories his mother chooses to share is what really makes this such an incredible story. I really don't want to give away anything because the tension needs to build for the reader (or listener) to enjoy the full impact. I listened to the audio where Jack's voice is perfectly done. The cadence is perfectly for a five year old. I intend to get a print copy to add to my permanent collection, but feel this is one book that is just as good in audio (if not better) than print. It is my first 5 star read of the year.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
Seeing life through the eyes of a five year old boy is fascinating, but when that little boy has been contained in a single room his whole life with only his mother for company, well, that perspective is singularly unique, disconcerting, at times terrifying and at others darkly humorous. Room by Emma Donoghue is her controversial story of a young woman taken by a stranger and held for seven years. During the course of her captivity she gives birth and she and her son have a isolated existence in a locked garden shed. The book’s focus is on the boy, Jack. Jack knows no other way of living, he doesn’t know much beyond the walls of the room, except for what he has seen on TV. To him Dora the Explorer is as real as Old Nick, the man who visits in the night. His mother tries very hard to keep Jack away from Old Nick and has him sleep in a wardrobe so he is out of sight when Old Nick visits.

When these two finally escape and emerge into the real world, Jack must learn to cope with unlimited boundaries. Everyday things we take for granted need to be explained and learned, Jack needs constant guidance but his Mother is also dealing in her own way with freedom. These two who have been inseparable now find they have different ways of looking at things, and different levels of acceptance. While Jack remembers Room as a place of comfort, the very idea of that place upsets the Mother to the point of nausea.

I found Room is be a very unique read and it told such a compelling story of human resourcefulness and resilience that it was very hard to put down. I was very moved by Jack’s mother, who overcame such difficulties and showed such devotion and care in the raising of her son. This is a book that truly moved me, and one that I will long remember.
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LibraryThing member tapestry100
For five year old Jack, there has never been anything other than Room and Ma. He was born in Room, he's lived his entire life in Room, he has never left Room. Ever. It is his home. However, for Ma, it has been a prison for the last seven years, a place where she has been held captive by Old Nick. It is also where she keeps Jack safe, but even she knows they'll have to escape eventually. It is going to have to be a daring plan, one that requires all of Jack's bravery to deal with the Outside, a place that he has never ventured into. But if they actually get to the Outside, how will Jack deal with discovering that there truly is another outside world that he has never known about.

Told entirely from Jack's point of view, Room is unlike anything that I have read. To look at life through the eyes of a child who has never experienced anything beyond the 11 x 11 foot dimension of his confines is amazing. Things that we would take utterly for granted are utterly new and strange to him. It is a sometimes refreshing and frightening perspective, and one that is entirely unique.

Sometimes I found Jack to be a little too intelligent for never having experienced anything outside of Room and Ma (we never discover her real name) seems to have a little bit too much insight on how to care for Jack and the things that he needs to stay healthy for someone who was kidnapped at 19 and no contact with the outside world or guidance on how to raise a child. For instance, knowing that they need time to sunbathe from the light coming through the skylight so that they have a tolerance for sunlight or having Jack focus on things close and then far away (the roof) to help strengthen his eyes seem, at least to me, a little too far fetched for someone in Ma's situation to inherently understand.

These technicalities aside, Room is still an astounding book and one that I couldn't put down. Ma's love for Jack, even when she is at her wit's end with him, and Jack's returned love for Ma, even when he is angry with her and doesn't always understand her reasons for what she does, is evident on every page. Emma Donoghue balances just the right amounts of hope, pathos, suspense and relief to make Room an engaging story without taking any of these elements too far.

Highly Recommended.
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LibraryThing member DianeBickers
By the second chapter the first-person voice of the five-year-old was really getting on my nerves, but I persevered, hoping the two main characters would find their way out of confinement soon as I was losing patience. While the novel itself was inspired by real events, the insights of the five-year-old require a huge suspension of disbelief.… (more)
LibraryThing member busyozmum
I really don't like saying negative things about anything and so reviewing this is difficult for me however this book annoyed me enough to write my first review. I guess that's a positive. ;o)

I really found this book a drag. It took me by surprise as I was very concerned that I wouldn't cope with the emotional aspect of this story however I found it imotionless. I felt like I was reading a childs imagination of what might be but really wasn't.It was on the very rare occasion that I caught a glimpse of what life might have been like for Ma.

I found Jack's speech annoying. I am a parent and I can't imagine teaching my children to speak the way Ma did. It's a little hard to be critical of Ma as this is not a normal situation and I really can't even imagine how I, personally, would handle it but I just wasn't convinced by this story. It didn't draw me in at all. It felt so very unrealistic much of the time. Funny, that some of the more boring parts of story, such as the medico's at work, seemed the most realistic to me.

I'm afraid I wouldn't recommend this to anyone and I'm very surprised by how many people love this book.
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LibraryThing member msf59
“Today I'm five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I'm changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. “Was I minus numbers?"'
Welcome to Jack’s World. He lives with his Ma, in a small enclosure, they call “Room”.
They are prisoners, being held captive by a man Jack knows only as Old Nick. Since the boy was born here, this is the only place he knows and feels comfortable in. Yes, this is a dark, disturbing premise (loosely based on an actual event) but the story offers so much more, including the importance of love and motherhood. It’s also about resilience and survival. This may not be a book for everyone but for this reader, it worked perfectly. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member ElizaJane
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 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 *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.
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LibraryThing member Joyeuxbelle
This book was like an impending car accident. I knew it was going to be bad, but I still went ahead and purchased it anyway. Although the premise isn't totally original - there has been a recent flow of books depicting abuse in all forms - memoirs, novels, non-fiction, the gimmick of having a five year old narrator is different.

By writing this review, I am in no way attempting to trivialise, poke fun at or glamourise the serious nature of the crimes committed within the story. This is simply a review concerning the writing itself, and the plot. Indeed, the more people who read this book the more people will become aware that these events are not as rare as we think. Anything that increases awareness regarding such horrific abuse is a good thing in my book.

Considering I'm currently suffering from a highly acidic hangover of the most mind-numbing kind right now, I'm just going to list the main points of contention I have with this book rather than provide a huge essay.

1. Jack's narrative. I can understand that a child who is so severely limited in essentially everything will rely on his mind and imagination more than most. I can even understand him coming to view inanimate objects as friends. However, the manner of writing style that the book is written is simply, well, nauseating. It would have been far, far better had the story been written from Jack's perspective when he was older. There are plenty of examples within the reviews of others as to how he speaks, so I won't provide any samples. But, it's grating and irritating. And goes on for 300 pages.

Although the language used still manages to hit home the events, it's completely off-putting to read sentences that make my cat sound more intelligent. If the point of this was to make it more 'horrific' to hear this story from a five year olds perspective, I have to say that Emma Donoghue missed the mark entirely. I felt more fear waking up this morning, and realising my depleted vitamin B12 levels were going to cause chaos then I did reading the whole book.

2. The main annoyance being spoken about, I'm now going to enter into 'trivial irritant' territory. Ma's constant use of saying 'yeah' all the time. It's totally irrational of me to hate it, but I do! It almost makes her sound sulky, childish and slovenly. I'm not sure if this is a deliberate action to remind us that she was abducted when she was 19, and hadn't had the chance to develop further, but it really does come across as annoying. I'm not saying I expect my characters to speak perfect english all the time, but it would have been nice to see not as many 'yeahs' and maybe something a little different. There are 114 'yeahs' in this book. That's about 50 more than necessary. Sheesh, even a 'Ma looked at me with her sad-eyes, and nodded her head yes' would have been better than '"Yeah", said Ma with sad in her eyes'. Maybe I'm just being too pedantic.

3. Yes! Another trivial irritant! It needs to be asked, but what is Emma's obsession with poo? Poo appears 57 times in the book, and frankly, it's not something I wish to read about every third page. Yes, for the purposes of scene setting the toilet, er, arrangements should be explained. Even when Jack is 'sick', it's necessary to detail Ma's actions in creating a sick atmosphere. What I really don't want to read are things like: "...not sliding out in my poo yet", " Toilet and do more poo", "...I sit to poo", "...a bit of poo squirted out my bum", "...poo bag", "...pooed a bit by accident", something about his "poo being too hard", etc etc etc.

Emma is either taking Freud way too seriously, or she has some kind of scat fetish. 'Poo' is everywhere throughout the book, references to poo, poo on the rug, poo in the sea, hard poo, soft poo, broken poo. Everywhere a poo-poo! Again, I understand that Jack is five and narrating the story, but...seriously? I'm surprised that he didn't have another friend - Poo, to go along with Plant, Rug, Rocker et all.

4. I can't help that feel as though Emma has undertaken to write this book in order for it to be mass-produced, all whilst riding on the coattails of the actual victims of similar circumstances. True, it's not based on a particular event or crime, but it really does feel as though it's borderline abuse exploitation, in order to make a few people a quick buck. I certainly hope that she donated some of her payment to the very survivors whose stories run parallel to Jack and Ma's.

Honestly, I haven't researched this book. I don't know whether Emma Donoghue was 'advised' to write the book, whether she was inspired to so that others could learn of these crimes, if she was paid, if she did indeed donate money to a foundation. So, I could be completely wrong. However, to me, the book gives off the impression that it's more to entertain rather than educate. It comes across as though hardly any, or minimal, research was conducted (yes, I've read the thanks & acknowledgments). Or if she did research, it was only to grasp the 'basics', if I can describe it as such.

It feels rushed, cheap, superficial, and incomplete. I will not be reading any further books by the author, after this mangled assault on language. I cannot believe it received a nomination.

On the bright side, given that this book is quite popular, hopefully there are now thousands of people who are somewhat more enlightened concerning the hidden surface of our world, and the evil that humans are capable of. Hopefully, the people who liked the book with lend it to others.

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LibraryThing member auntmarge64
Just exquisite. A 5-year old boy celebrates his birthday with all the little excitements normal to any child - except that he and his mother are confined to an 11'x11' room where she's been held captive for 7 years. Jack has no idea there's anything wrong with their existence, other than nighttime visits from "Old Nick" after Jack's been safely tucked away in the wardrobe so he never has to see Old Nick - or what Old Nick does to his mother. Told entirely in Jack's voice, the reader sees his mother slowly realize she has to tell him there is an Outside, places other than Room, in which his whole existence has been lived, and she begins to plan an escape that is possible now only because Jack can help in its execution.

The genius of this book is that Jack's voice is entirely believable, and his story of the life he has with his mother, who designs each day to keep them healthy, active, interested and entertained, is phenomenal. Perseverance, love, motherhood, and trust - all are explored in ways which enthrall the reader. This book was hard to put down and will be impossible to forget.
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LibraryThing member miss_read
If you like Oprah and Lifetime 'women in peril' movies, then this the book for you.

Donoghue's concept is a good one and the pacing of the narrative is decent, but that's all I can recommend about this book. Having five-year-old Jack as the narrator is a cute gimmick, but I don't do cute. Also, Donoghue doesn't even do it particularly well. Jack speaks in baby-talk much of the time, despite the fact that he watches television every day, can read 'Alice in Wonderland' and has an advanced vocabulary. The inconsistency is jarring and really prevented me from finding his character believable.

As others have said, it would have made more compelling reading had the story been told from Ma's point-of-view, or from a combination of Ma's and Jack's. Or perhaps, in the second part of the book, from the grandparents' - I actually found then to be the most interesting characters in the book, so it's a shame they weren't much of a focus. The real grandfather, in particular, and his reaction to Jack would have made for some fascinating reading.

The characters aren't developed all that well, the BIG ACTION SCENE isn't all that exciting and the denouement seems a bit sudden. This could all be because of the limiting nature of Jack's narrative.

However, I thought I'd absolutely hate 'Room,' so I suppose it's something to be said that I polished it off in about three hours. It's definitely a page-turner, but I generally see page-turners as "airport books" rather than Booker short-listed books. How that happened I still haven't figured out.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
Jack’s mother has lived seven years in a tiny room after being kidnapped at the age of nineteen. Jack’s birth (the result of repeated rapes), gives her a new purpose for her life – that of mother. Room is Jack and Ma’s story which begins on the morning of Jack’s fifth birthday. Narrated in the unique voice of Jack, the novel follows the characters from the limited life of captivity, to the overwhelming and chaotic Outside world and freedom.

Emma Donoghue deftly creates Jack and Ma’s world within an eleven by eleven foot room. Their days are surprisingly interesting, with Ma creating imaginative games for them to play together. But there is an underlying tension, made more poignant by the fact that it is through a five year old’s eyes that we see the story unfolding. Jack is no longer an infant. He is a smart, curious boy who asks a lot of difficult questions. His mother has allowed him to believe that the world does not exist except for the room in which they live, an alternate reality which eventually must be corrected if they are ever to escape Room.

I must admit that the first 40 pages or so of this novel took some getting used to…Jack’s voice is odd. But once I allowed myself to be fully inside Jack’s world, the book began to resonate with me. The daring escape attempt is perhaps one of the most suspenseful and nerve-wracking scenes I’ve read in a long, long time. Ma’s inner turmoil is perfectly captured through the eyes of her observant son – even though he does not fully understand it. What begins as a story of captivity evolves into a deeper novel of mothering, love, hope and the resilience of the human spirit.

It takes a talented writer to write entirely from the point of view of a child – and Donoghue pulls off this feat seamlessly. The relationship between mother and child is beautifully revealed on every level. Donoghue’s ability to draw the reader in and emotionally invest them in the story is brilliant. Room was recently shortlisted for the 2010 Booker Prize…and it is a well deserved nomination. Original, enthralling, haunting, and memorable Room is a novel I highly recommend for readers who enjoy literary fiction.
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LibraryThing member beserene
'Room' is a novel that is not for everyone. I know that could be said about most novels, or most anything, for that matter, but here is the key difference: this novel is extraordinary. It looks at a horrific situation and makes the moments within that situation celebratory. It looks at motherhood and childhood and considers the realities of such relationships under strain, but refrains from romanticizing. It creates a story of release, rediscovery, and readjustment, but it isn't really about those things -- or the victimization that makes them necessary -- at all. For all these reasons, and more, this is an extraordinary novel.

But you still might not like it.

One of the reasons for that is the narration -- though that very narration is a major contributing factor to the elevation of this story to something beyond the everyday. The entire novel is told through the eyes and voice of five-year-old Jack, whose whole world consists of Room (an 11' x 11' windowless but skylit cell), its furnishings and objects, and Ma. The narration never shifts from Jack's understanding, even as his world shifts beneath his feet. That perspective is compelling -- it's part of what kept me turning pages -- but it also takes some getting used to. Jack's grammar is particularly articulate for a five-year-old, but has unusual structure and vocabulary. The way Jack thinks about some things can be disturbing -- what he finds commonplace may be squirm-worthy for the reader -- and that too contributes to the way this story sinks under one's skin.

If you can get into the narration and let Jack's eyes be your own for a while, the novel rewards. I won't spoil it all here, because that would be mean, but things change -- as they must -- and part of the glory of this experience is watching Jack try to change too (some of his change-related moments are funny, some cringe-worthy).

I had the good fortune to attend a recent reading of Emma Donoghue's and she described her novel as "celebratory of motherhood" -- I found it to be so, of course, but perhaps even more celebratory of childhood -- both of its charms and its limitations. Jack is our focus, and in many ways he is our hero, though not in the archetypal way. He is also a very real five-year-old boy (apparently Donoghue had young children in the house while writing the novel, so listened in and took advantage of observational opportunities). I appreciated Donoghue's realism throughout the novel, as well as her focus on staying away from sentimentality -- even in the face of significant temptation, given the subject matter. Using a circumstance more suited to a thriller or horror novel, but with no "seen" violence, Donoghue has crafted a work that escapes our voyeuristic tendencies and substitutes a more satisfying focus. Where one might expect to be shocked, one finds delicacy; where one might expect to feel dirtied, one emerges cathartically cleansed.

Bottom line: this is an amazing book. It's probably the most uniquely rendered piece of fiction you will read all year. Though some may not like its narrative style, give it a chance to impress you.
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LibraryThing member bookweaver
The characterization is strong at the beginning, but the author doesn't seem to know what to do with the characters once they are found. The biggest weakness of this novel; however, is that the author specifically sets the novel in the U.S. yet the characters use British diction that many Americans might not understand, and, even if they do, is jarring coming from the mouths of the characters in this book. I don't understand how a book with such an obvious flaw can be so widely lauded.… (more)
LibraryThing member rollout4u
A young woman is kidnapped and kept in solitary confinement in a revamped storage shed. Here she is fed, repeatedly raped and has a son. She is such a good mother that her son, Jack, now five-years-old, believes that everything in his reality is as it should be. He is secure, bright, and grounded in his mother's love. He believes she knows everything. But he couldn't know how he is helping her to stay sane and have a reason to live.

Because of her love, Jack's mother gives him rules for managing his world: TV can only be on for a hour at a time or his brain will turn to mush; hiding in Wardrobe when Old Nick comes keeps him from his anger; looking into the skylight when God's full face is there will make your eyes stop seeing. But the songs and games, the careful schedule, the stories about Old Nick all become shaken when the electricity is suddenly shut off.

Jack's profound descriptions allow us into Room, a world of beauty and subtle truths. We learn of his misconceptions and what looks like real. His mother is his sole source of his knowledge and she keeps feeding his curiosity with her carefully planned bits and pieces of truth until she cannot hold onto their fragile existence any longer.

Sweet, earnest Jack and his unique perspective makes "Room" a gem of a book. The tragedy seen through his eyes is generous, warm, nurturing, and full of faith. Baby Jesus and John the Baptist teach him about friendship and being cousins. The insects are his secret companions. His mother is all-knowing and seems to even be connected to him.

Though the horror in 'Room' is gut-wrenching, the love and life force between Jack and his mother is awe-inspiring. I was captured by the relationship of this mother and son, the writing was simple, astute, and revealing. I saw glimpses of every mother's love in the actions that take place, her sense of survival and her creative and detailed plotting. I read Jack's reactions to his world and remembered raising my own children and their views of an ever-widening world-consciousness, simple yet wise. His character also accurately defines the process of dealing with suffering and the realities delivered to each of us in our lives.
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LibraryThing member _Zoe_
This is a hugely original book; I've never read anything like it. Five-year-old Jack has grown up in Room, a 12x12 garden shed where his mother has been locked up since her abduction seven years earlier. Jack doesn't know anything outside of Room; he does have access to a few books and watches television, but thinks that everything he sees on TV is make-believe. Needless to say, this is a character with a very unique perspective on the world.

The book divides roughly into two halves, which take place in Room and in "Outside", respectively. The first half introduces us to Jack's life and his views about reality, and there's certainly a lot of interest there. I have to admit, though, that I found this part a bit slow; there's a sense of waiting, and I became impatient to get on with the story. But once Jack leaves Room, the story really picks up. His views of life in Room were interesting, but his attempts to reconcile his former view of the world with external reality are really fascinating. I'd recommend this book to anyone, and I think it would make a great discussion book. There's lots to think about, and it's told in a way that feels completely new.
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LibraryThing member FemmeNoiresque
I too found it a quick engrossing read, but I had some clear problems.

Unlike some squirmish critics whose primary reaction was getting the heebie jeebies, I was not really bothered by the breastfeeding as it was presented realistically and in a dramatically clever and significant way. As a symbol running throughout the story it worked on a number of levels, and very successfully.
I didn't feel that way about the interview on the other hand. It seemed like a tabloid free for all rather than an interview with an Oprah-type, or even a Diane Sawyer-type - and let's face it, an Oprah-type is a success for a reason and would not risk alienating her audience by being insensitive and boorish to a damaged woman. I think the reason it failed for me lies with the problem of Jack the narrator needing to witness to it for the readers and to propel the plot.

And the clever little tyke returning to the Room with his mother back to for their mutual closure was rather irritatingly written. Too pat, too neat, too clearly articulated.

I wouldn't recommend this to everyone. Donoghue a cracking writer and the tension she creates is remarkable, but to be honest, I was surprised it was shortlisted for the Booker. It is quite accessible and populist, and is almost a "genre" work (if there is such a "domestic/trauma drama" genre) as much as it is "literary fiction" - (which is a greater criticism of the Booker panels than this writer). It reads like a slightly higher brow version of Jodi Picoult's work in many ways. Which is not a bad thing, as such, as it was free of the neo-pychological navel-gazing that plagues so much "literary fiction" and had a refreshing directness.
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LibraryThing member blakefraina
Is it just me?

Am I the only one who sees this book as a sly, subversive feminist manifesto?

Not that I don’t agree with all the other people (including the Booker Prize nominating committee) who were gripped by the plot and impressed with the heroics of the utterly believable five year old narrator, "Jacker Jack." But, thematically speaking, there is so much more to this book than just original characters and a suspenseful storyline.

First off, it’s no secret that the author wrote this book in reaction to learning about Josef Fritzl, that loony-tune in Austria who kept his daughter in an underground bunker for nineteen years. And, tragically, this sort of story is hardly unique in modern times. It seems as if men are threatened by the ever growing independence of women and these sorts of extreme measures are being resorted to by some incredibly sick individuals in an attempt re-capture some idealized version of a traditional home life or to force women into subservient roles. Ma and her offspring (in this case, the sprightly, spirited Jack) stay home awaiting the arrival of Old Nick, "the man of the house," each evening. He provides them with everything they need and, without him, they could not survive. And Ma’s only role is to raise Jack and provide pleasure for Old Nick. It reads like an incredibly disturbing parody of a 1950’s household.

It’s a shrewd perspective and, as told through Jack’s guileless point-of-view, with all his adorable antics and quirky turns of phrase, an easy one to miss. Funny thing is, Donogue even suggests that Jack, in his own naïve way, might be exploiting Ma as well. Notice how he refers to genitalia using the proper words - penis and vagina, unlike most five year olds who resort to slang like wee-wee or pee-pee. Presumably, because he lives alone with his mother, outside of society, she felt no need to be coy when teaching him to speak. Why then, would the same child always refer to breast-feeding as "getting some" or "having some?" Many readers were understandably creeped out by the constant breast-feeding and, honestly, I think that was the author’s intent. I mean, don’t we usually hear men say they are "getting some" as a euphemism for sex?

Just saying.

And finally, in the second half of the book, Ma makes an indirect reference to Woolf’s seminal feminist essay, A Room of One’s Own, when explaining to Jack that she needs space from him. Again, no felicitous accident.

In the last century, Virginia Woolf wrote A Room of One’s Own, which argued for the equality of the sexes and E.M. Forster wrote A Room With A View about a young woman’s escape from Victorian repression. And, in that same vein, we can add Emma Donoghue’s masterful Room to that esteemed literary house.

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LibraryThing member susiesharp
This is a hard book to review, it’s hard because I can’t say I enjoyed it because it is a very disturbing book but I did like it, I hope that makes sense. This book is narrated by a 5 year old boy whose mother was kidnapped and had a child by her captor they live in Room as Jack calls it. He thinks the world is only Room and everything else is TV. It was a fascinating and unique look at kidnap victims. It is hard to put down (or in my case stop listening) because you must know what happens to Jack and his Ma.
There were parts that I just found it a little farfetched **no spoilers** and also parts I thought I couldn’t see the character doing that. Jack‘s narration gives us an insight into the mind of a 5 year old completely and I thought it was very well written. I think I may not have liked it as much as some but I didn’t hate it as much as others it is a very unique book and because of that I’ve rated it a bit higher.

I listened to this on audio and the narration was great!

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LibraryThing member BlackSheepDances
(possible spoiler alert on one point, below)...............................

Room is a big novel about important issues, which is significant when you consider that much of it deals with captivity in a very small place. It begins in Jack's "Room", the small, soundproof building in the backyard of a kidnapper. Placed there with the express intent to hide someone, Jack's mother is the first unwilling resident when she is kidnapped and placed inside. In the small space is a bathroom, some basic cooking equipment, and a television. Over a period of years, she gives birth to Jack, and he too is kept locked inside. However, the captivity is even more significant: he's never seen the light of day. The only outside world he's seen has come from television cartoons and from the stories his mother tells him.

The blurb on the book describes Jack being thrust out into the outside world, and I feel I need to say (here's my kind-of spoiler) that it means he and his mother escape. The reason I mention this is because I am not sure I could have kept reading the book without that development. While fascinating, it became plodding and a bit repetitive. I was about to quit when they escaped and the story enlarged to encompass Jack's assimilation into "normal" life.

Once out, Jack and his mother are thrown into a media storm of exposure, especially difficult for a child in his position. One immediately thinks of a recent real-life kidnapping case with similar details, and it makes the story that much more painful. His mother's parents are thrilled to have her back, yet learning to live in this altered reality is as difficult for his mother as for Jack. Her parents have to learn who she is all over again, and at the same time, immediately care for and get to know this charming but difficult little boy. The return to people and places is fraught with complications, and no one, not even the psychiatric specialists called in to help, knows the ideal path to 'normalcy' for Jack.

Why is this book so amazing? First, the depth of the mother's love: she manages to create, in great detail, an outside world for Jack. While only possessing a few old books, she spins stories, creates games, and tries to make the best of an impossible situation. She teaches him history, science, and scores of topics. She teaches him good and bad, and most of all, bravery. She does this without a break, and so could be called completely self-less. She doesn't dwell in pity, she puts her energy instead into making Jack a more empathetic and kind child than most in the outside world.

As a character too, Jack is amazing. His sheltered existence makes him unprepared for the complexities of the outside...even normal weather events perplex him. Interacting with family and other people is equally difficult: he can't understand sarcasm, innuendo, or dishonesty.

Room is getting a ton of buzz, and was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. It's a title that I wouldn't be surprised to see Oprah select for her book group, as it deals with a strong female character surviving tragedy. In other words, I expect this book is going to be seen everywhere for quite some time. In terms of content, it's worth noting that none of the unspeakable acts of cruelty by the kidnapper are actually discussed, only alluded to, which means this title would be safe for a young adult audience. In fact, I especially appreciated that much of the horror that you know was there isn't actually detailed.
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