unknown's Reviews > Room

Room by Emma Donoghue
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2010, 52-in-2010, kindle, vote-getters

I was all ready to hate this book. Doesn't it sound obnoxious? An adult novel about harrowing things, but narrated by a 5-year-old? Mere gimmickry, right, a showy writing experiment, likely to win praise from the easily impressed.

But I don't think I am that easily impressed, and damn, this book is kind of a stunner. Because yes, if not handled exactly right, a book narrated by a child probably would be obnoxious. I haven't read Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close yet, and I might or might not like it, but I already know that it is written in the voice of a precocious 9-year-old, and precocious kids usually are pretty annoying.

But Jack, the narrator of Room, is not really precocious, and Emma Donoghue has managed to capture a realistic child's voice without turning out a book that's overly simplistic or too calculated. And I really don't know how she did it.

As you begin reading this story of a boy who has spent his entire life locked in one small room, the son of the unfortunate Ma (who is never named, because she's Ma), who was kidnapped and has been kept in the room for the last seven years, it does seem too cute: all the objects in Room are proper nouns with genders, like Floor and Bed and Duvet and Wardrobe, which kind of makes sense because to Jack, they are the only onlys of those things in the world, because the whole world is Room (he has a TV, which he thinks shows make-believe things that live on planets inside the TV). But I kept reading, and there's really remarkable depth to the story even though such a limited narrative scope.

What really grabbed me is the way the book perfectly captures the malleability of a kid's mind, the way they take what they know and use it as a filter to interpret the stuff they encounter that they don't understand. I once read something by Stephen King that posited that all children are more or less clinically insane until about age seven, when those parts of their brain firm up and they stop coming up with ideas like, "oh it got dark because a giant monster ate the sun." And of course, Emma Donoghue knows that we are not 5-year-olds, and she somehow manages to weave in all these staggeringly sad truths about the world, and growing up, and our relationships with our parents, and how fleeting time and relationships can be, all into the voice of this little boy who doesn't even realize what he's saying, but it doesn't feel crammed in, or like a cheat (the Magical Negro 5-Year-Old).

I didn't say anything about the plot because I think it really helps to not know much beyond the premise going in (and it's one of those books I would really like to have read knowing absolutely nothing at all, but such is life). And yes, it's more of a heart book than a head book, but I don't think it is bad that sometimes books try to engage us in different ways. And certainly there's room, with this premise, for a different kind of book, almost a social satire, but that's not what we have here, and it's still quite an experience.
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Reading Progress

September 10, 2010 – Started Reading
September 10, 2010 – Shelved
September 10, 2010 – Shelved as: 2010
September 10, 2010 – Shelved as: 52-in-2010
September 10, 2010 – Shelved as: kindle
September 10, 2010 –
page 20
September 13, 2010 –
page 66
September 13, 2010 –
page 165
51.4% "after."
September 14, 2010 –
page 205
September 14, 2010 –
page 280
September 15, 2010 – Finished Reading
January 17, 2011 – Shelved as: vote-getters

Comments Showing 1-50 of 87 (87 new)

Madeline I read a fantastic review of this a few days ago, and now I want to go out and buy a copy right now. It sounds phenomenal.

unknown it's one of those books that i can easily see a lot of people hating. i think it depends on whether or not you can abide a book that lives more in the heart than the head. if you going in looking for something heady or a satire, you're going to be disappointed. but as a character study and an emotional story, i think it really works well. maybe it's kind of populist, maybe that's bad. i don't think so.

message 3: by Ladyjexie (new) - added it

Ladyjexie Sounds intriguing. Just added it 'to read'.

Betty Great review -- I didn't quite understand the Magic N-word you crossed out. Is that an idiom?

unknown i was referring to this trope in fiction, which presents an often simple-minded black character as having some kind of "true wisdom" about the world, teaching it to the white characters.

Jasmine I have to agree there is nothing worse than a precocious nine year old.

do not read this:

it is the most annoying child narrator I have ever read. Now I always have to have personal ethical debates about whether to lie when people ask me if I know that book with the maps in it.

Virginia Just by chance the book I read just prior to Room was EL&IC. I hated it for probably the reasons I am loving Room. The nine-year-old was obnoxious. I kept thinking it was Foer not the character. In Room, Jack was Jack . . . it was the five-year-old. Great review.

unknown thanks. oddly enough i just read EL+IC, obviously shortly after finishing room, and while i found it to be an engaging read, i didn't buy the narrator's voice at all, and found it too cute by half. it gave me heavy boots to keep reading the stupid catch phrases he shoehorned in there.

message 9: by Anees (new)

Anees Hackim I'm buying this book because of Joel's review.

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

I loved this book. I was surprised how much I loved Jack.

message 11: by Carol (new)

Carol Neman This sounds like too much for me...at least Jaycee Dugard's kids had the whole backyard to roam around in...

unknown i found it to be a surprisingly un-harrowing book. remember, it's told through the child's eyes, and he doesn't really understand a lot of what is happening (he loves Room, for example). It's not really a tearjerker, despite the premise.

message 13: by Carol (new)

Carol Neman Mmmm...good to know. Thanks.

message 14: by Alana (new)

Alana Moore You lost me at "I haven't read Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close but it's probably annoying." I happened to love that book and character dearly. Oh well. I haven't read Room but it probably is obnoxious or, worse, waiting to become a precious Lifetime movie.

message 15: by unknown (last edited Dec 10, 2010 05:06PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

unknown well i subsequently read EL&IC and it was annoying, so kudos to me. precocious child narrators give me heavy boots.

although the parts of that book that really bugged me had more to do with JSF's tics as a writer and also the very boring backstory for the older characters.

message 16: by Mariel (last edited Dec 10, 2010 06:40PM) (new)

Mariel I almost got this the other day. I'll have to go back and do so.

This review is the best I've read all night.

unknown thanks. i hope you find it to be non-obnoxious and not at all a precious lifetime movie.

Jasmine there was a lifetime movie about a mother shooting her children. I liked that one as a kid

unknown was it as good as cyber seduction?


Jasmine i don't think lifetime movies and precious moments have much to do with each other.

message 21: by Mariel (new)

Mariel Best lifetime movie is still Unwed Father with Brian Austin Green.

unknown i think "mother may i sleep with danger?" wins for having the best tile.

message 23: by Mariel (new)

Mariel 90210 does the genre justice.

Renee Fantastic review. Thank you for verbalizing what I was feeling, but unable to get properly into words.

I would also like to thank you for the term "magical negro"! It seems I was aware of this phenomena, but did not know there was an actual term for it.

Another best lifetime movie title: My Stepson, My Lover. lol!!

unknown ew. that is a good one.

Belknits Great review. I couldn't express myself as well, but you said exactly what I wanted to say!!

message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

Very interesting review. I think I'll give this one a try

Cornelia Great review. Makes me want to read it even more.

Love that this thread devolved into a discussion on Lifetime movies, all of which were brilliant and ridiculous. Mother May I Sleep With Danger was awesome and I think it spawned the teen-girl-bad-man string of movies they did afterwards.

Camille Good review, definitely makes me curious to read this one

memoirsofgeisha Great review, really expected to hate this book as well and only picked it up due to all the attention and controversy attached to it. I am glad i did for the last two days i have lived with Jack!

message 31: by Diane (new)

Diane Dellicker Thank you for not telling about the plot. I think it's great that you got my attention without knowing anything about it, and I will put it on my request list at the library!

message 32: by Jessica (new) - added it

Jessica Thanks for writing such a descriptive review without giving the plot away. I think I have to go out and get this book, now, thanks to your excellent review!

unknown you're welcome! i tried to avoid spoiling myself before i read it but right after i started it i made the mistake of reading the new york times review, which gives away major elements of the narrative. i didn't want to ruin it for anyone else!

unknown did you read it? i liked it. it hasn't held up super well in my head but it's well executed.

message 35: by unknown (last edited Mar 20, 2011 09:14PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

unknown it's not like the book is full of lurid detail. it's all from the point of view of the boy, and he doesn't really understand what is happening. i think it is interesting because it shows how children's understanding of the world is shaped by their experiences and environment. the kid is totally happy growing up because he doesn't know any different.

message 36: by unknown (last edited Mar 20, 2011 09:40PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

unknown well i don't think she really IS writing about rape and molestation. those are the circumstances but very little of that is on the page. the book is about how a very bizarre and harrowing set of circumstances can appear normal through a child's eyes. of course, readers know what is really going on, but there aren't any explicit scenes of rape or anything. also no child molestation, nothing sexual happens to the boy.

i don't care if you read it but the book is hardly exploitative. i wouldn't be interested in a standard thriller about rape and kidnap, but that's not what this is.

also if no one writes even non-fiction about it, how can we increase awareness that it is actually a problem? not talking about problems doesn't make them go away, as you know well. i'm sure a lot of people don't want to read gross books about animals being slaughtered.

unknown how would you unless you read it? i never know if a popular book is worth reading until i actually do. sometimes they are.

unknown i agree when it comes to your average killer thriller (but then, i don't read those books very often). but this particular book is about giving the survivors a voice rather than focusing on the acts themselves. sure, you could say it is exploitative because it uses those incidents as a hook, but it does an ok job, though it is hardly a sophisticated treatment of the material.

Virginia @K.I. Sure, the premise is creepy, but there is nothing in this book that is lurid. If the topic doesn't interest you, don't read it. I'm not sure why, if you're not interested in reading this book, you have spent so much time debating it.

Laura I thought this Book was engrossing, and i agree, a terrific representation of a child mind. I was lucky enough to know nothing when I started, so entering this world was a bit like a drug flashback in the beginning.

message 41: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Well said Joel. But I still don't get how the boy acquire such language proficiency.

message 42: by Archer (new)

Archer Ladyjexie wrote: "Sounds intriguing. Just added it 'to read'."

yes, i think so

message 43: by Tina (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tina I just started reading this book and I'm on the fence about finishing it. I don't know if I can swallow the 5 yr old narration thing. I'm hoping the story will draw me in and I will forget about the annoying narrative. Your review gives me hope.

message 44: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Tina wrote: "I just started reading this book and I'm on the fence about finishing it. I don't know if I can swallow the 5 yr old narration thing. I'm hoping the story will draw me in and I will forget about t..."

At some point, it was annoying and disturbing but the theme was great and was perfectly portrayed by the innocent narrator. I still suggest on reading it through.

unknown you get used to the voice (and the book settles down a bit) after a few chapters. i think it is tough to love right away; you have to get into the rhythm and get used to his head.

Jeanine Halada I listened to this book on CD in my car--it really came alive--and is probably why I like the book so much--I hve now listened to it twice--and it is just so thought-provoking--it really is a good novel butter be scotch--read is hearing a 5 year old voice---or better yet--get it on CD:)

Angela I read the book without knowing anything other than a little boy lived in this room and it was told from his perspective. I agree with your comment, Joel, about reading without knowing much at all. It made for an entirely different reading experience.

unknown thanks, angela -- i tried to keep away from as many spoilers as possible.

message 49: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan O'Neill-Wood This was a fantastic book and you have pointed out many of the reasons why. Try the audio book. It is even more compelling and so well done

message 50: by Suzy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Suzy VERY well said!

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