Stephen's Reviews > Room

Room by Emma Donoghue
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it was ok
bookshelves: ebooks, psychos, crime, literature, horror, 2006-2010, audiobook, the-creeps

Healthy ambition is a laudable trait and I admire people willing to reach beyond their grasp in the attempt to achieve something special.
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I respect the author’s choice to write a dark-themed story narrated entirely from the perspective of a five year old boy. While the unreliable narrator is nothing new in literature, its deployment here felt fresh and so I give points for that.

Unfortunately, that is about all I can give points for because the novel itself was a huge miss for me. Huge!!

Obviously, the story is intended to be an emotional ordeal with its depiction of a young woman and her 5 year old son being held captive in a garden shack (the eponymous “Room”) by a sociopath named “Old Nick.” At the beginning of the story, the woman, who was 19 when she was abducted, has been in the Room for almost 10 years. Her son, Jack, just turned 5...you can do the math regarding Jack’s paternity. Neither of them has been outside the Room in all that time.

This is dark stuff. This is uncomfortable stuff. This is a story about a horrible person doing horrible things. It should have punched me in the core and twisted me up in knots.

Yet it never affected me.

Now, if I was a cold, empathy-impaired individual, I might chalk up my lack of reaction to a simple case of “not my kind of story” and leave it at that. However, if you’ve read any of my reviews, you should have clued into the fact that I’m a deeply some would say overly emotional reader. Books move me, that’s why I read them. They make me laugh, cry, rage, exult…they make me feel. Yet, despite the highly charged subject matter of the story, no more than an occasional trickle of emotion ever filtered through to me from the page.

Something was serious amiss in the delivery.

Given my blasé reaction to the story, I began to suspect that the use of a child narrator was nothing more than a huge gimmick designed to help distinguish a story that otherwise had very little to recommend it. I know that's not the consensus opinion, but it's honestly how I felt.

To be fair, it’s more likely that the use of Jack as the narrator, while an interesting plot device, simply presented too many serious challenges that the novel, unfortunately, was unable to successfully overcome. To the good, the author does a nice job of showing us the world of Room through the lens of Jack’s childhood perception. We learn how Jack has named and anthropomorphized every object in the room and thinks of them as his friends, and how he refers to each channel on the TV as a different planet.

Initially, this is kind of cute, but it got old and decrepit in short order.

The real problem for me was that Jack was too detached from the horror of his situation and it care-blocked the impact of the story on the reader…at least this reader. Children Jack’s age, while certainly able to show empathy, are generally so egocentric that any feelings of compassion for another’s pain are weak and undeveloped, being more about parroting behavior they’ve learned from caregivers than a true placing of themselves “in the shoes” of the other person.

Unfortunately, this worked against my connection with the narrative. Jack’s happy-go-lucky outlook was too strong a filter between what I could tell was happening in the story and what I knew I was supposed to be feeling about it. Jack’s personal, subjective experience of his captivity is completely lacking in any sense of sadness or dread. This is because his mother does a wonderful job of sheltering him from the reality of their situation.

However, Jack also doesn’t experience feelings of discomfort about the abuse that his mother is subjected to and this subtracts a great deal from the power of these scenes. Without his own internal sense of bewilderment, confinement or pain, much of the intended poignancy was lost on me. I knew I was supposed to feel something, but I didn't.

That’s just me. If I had found the emotional tether that could have pulled me into the Room with Jack and his mother, my feelings for the book would have been much different. The writing is fine and the author’s ability to convincingly give voice to Jack was worthy of note. I just never found the necessary connection and that is a shame.

I envy those of you that loved this as I was really looking forward to reading it.

2.0 stars.
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Reading Progress

May 29, 2011 – Shelved
March 13, 2012 – Started Reading
March 14, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-50 of 116 (116 new)


Brittany B. Stephen, I'm thrilled that you are reading this. I was very taken by the book. I didn't know anything about the story and was continually surprised and a bit freaked out.


message 2: by Kay (new)

Kay I'm really looking forward to your review! I've had this on my shelf for months. I'm sure your review will turn me to read the book...or maybe keep it on infinite hold, depending on your reaction.


Ms BookAholic's Café I can't wait to read your review on this book, because I have been wanting to read this and it has been on the to-read soon list! Hehe :)


message 4: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie This one was a hard one for me to like too unfortunately. Seeing so many positive reviews I was definitely expecting more.


Becky Yup. I think you're right on... And if I am honest, I think that I filled in a lot of the gaps that you mention myself, rather than the book filling them in. I could imagine the horror the mother was feeling, so Jack's sheltered perception of it was enough for me to do that.

I'm OK with that, but I agree that it should have been more of a gutpunch to read. Yup.


Wendy Darling I was not a fan of this one either. It's interesting to see the different reactions to this book.


Robert Delikat You gave it one more star than I. I just could not connect with this book and I really tried.


Stephen Bonnie wrote: "This one was a hard one for me to like too unfortunately. Seeing so many positive reviews I was definitely expecting more."

Me too, Bonnie. It happens.


Stephen Becky wrote: "Yup. I think you're right on... And if I am honest, I think that I filled in a lot of the gaps that you mention myself, rather than the book filling them in. I could imagine the horror the mother was feeling, so Jack's sheltered perception of it was enough for me to do that."

I think we saw pretty much the same, Becky. I knew what I was "supposed" to be feeling, but the book never imposed itself on me, and that was disappointing given the subject matter.


message 10: by Fey (new)

Fey Great review! Good job on constructive criticism for a low-rating (I find it hard to review low-ratings without coming across as a jerk about it, I'll take some tips from you in future!)

I haven't read the book but.. I'm thinking perhaps the Author chose to write from the boy's POV for exactly the reason it didn't work for you... because the only way she was able to write about just grisly subject matter was to distance herself from it in that way. I imagine writing as the mother POV would have been more of an emotional challenge.


Stephen Wendy Darling wrote: "I was not a fan of this one either. It's interesting to see the different reactions to this book."

I agree, Wendy. Without being able to connect to the "horror" of the story through Jack, I was doomed.


Stephen Robert wrote: "You gave it one more star than I. I just could not connect with this book and I really tried."

I'm glad I'm not alone in that assessment, Robert.


Richard Derus I couldn't finish it. P88 or so, I said to myself, "Self," I said, "you are being manipulated, Self, and it feels so cynical and so heartless that even you, Self, cynical old heartless bastard that we are, can't stand it."


Stephen "Self" could have told me this before I read it. "Self" shouldn't be so SELFish next time.


Stephen Sath wrote: "I haven't read the book but.. I'm thinking perhaps the Author chose to write from the boy's POV for exactly the reason it didn't work for you... because the only way she was able to write about just grisly subject matter was to distance herself from it in that way. I imagine writing as the mother POV would have been more of an emotional challenge."

Thanks, Sath, and I think you may be right in your estimate of why she wrote the novel in that voice. The result was just ineffective, at least to me. On the other hand, I don't think The mother's voice would have worked on its own either as it would have been too grim.

As I was reading, I did think that alternating chapters between Jack's voice and his mother's voice might have been a better avenue. Have periods of extreme duress shown through the mother's perception (including her fears for Jack) and then abruptly switch to see the same scene through the sheltered, innocent eyes of Jack. If done right, it could have been extremely chilling.


Brittany B. Stephen... 2 stars? Heart breaking! I can't like this review. Don't be mad at me. I like the book too much. Did you read this in print or audiobook?


Stephen I know you love this one, Brittany. I read your review before I wrote mine and thought it was excellent. I did listen to the audiobook and thought the narrator did a good job with Jack's voice. This book just didn't connect with me and I tried to explain why in my review. It happens. I wish it didn't in this case, because I wanted to love it.


Richard Derus Stephen wrote: ""Self" could have told me this before I read it. "Self" shouldn't be so SELFish next time."

I feel bad for not raising the warning flags. Maybe I can start reviewing things on my Pearl Rule shelf instead of letting them die ignored in a pool of their own gore. But wait! Silly me! You don't read my reviews.

Back to square one....


message 19: by Brittany B. (last edited Mar 14, 2012 04:17PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Brittany B. I understand. You are sweet to spend time chatting with all of us. Im liking this review after all. ❤

That picture is messed up. This book doesn't deserve it!!


Stephen Brittany, I didn't include the picture as a negative against the book by any means. It just made me chuckle and I thought a little humor at the beginning of the review, especially for such a dark book, wasn't a bad thing.


Stephen Richard wrote: "But wait! Silly me! You don't read my reviews.

Back to square one."


Sorry, I didn't see this until now because I was off reading your wonderful review of The Zona.


Brittany B. Stephen wrote: "Brittany, I didn't include the picture as a negative against the book by any means. It just made me chuckle and I thought a little humor at the beginning of the review, especially for such a dark b..."

I know Stephen! I'm teasing. My bf thinks it's hysterical. You're becoming his hero.


Stephen Brittany B. wrote: "I know Stephen! I'm teasing."

Whew...I'm glad.

Brittany B. wrote: "My bf thinks it's hysterical."

Your bf has a very good sense of humor. You should keep him.


message 24: by Rebecca (new) - added it

Rebecca Huston Thank you for the review. I think I can avoid this book now, no matter how much I have enjoyed the author's other books.


message 25: by Anne (Booklady) (last edited Mar 14, 2012 08:23PM) (new) - added it

Anne  (Booklady) Molinarolo This has been on 1 of my bookshelves forever. It may stay there for a little longer, unread. I had high hopes for Carry the One, but reading it was torture, sigh...

Thank you for your astute review, Stephen.


Richard Derus Stephen wrote: "Richard wrote: "But wait! Silly me! You don't read my reviews.

Back to square one."

Sorry, I didn't see this until now because I was off reading your wonderful review of [book:The Zona|12031..."


*collapse*

He READ one! He READ one!


Brittany B. Rebecca wrote: "Thank you for the review. I think I can avoid this book now, no matter how much I have enjoyed the author's other books."

(Stephen look what you did... Rebecca isn't going to read it.)
:(


Spider the Doof Warrior Having read that, but When I was Five I Killed Myself had a really good child narrator.


message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

Yeah, I had passed on this one a few months ago, just doesn't float my both.


Ms BookAholic's Café Thanks for the review Stephen! Love it & the picture! Haha. Hmm, makes me think about to-read this. ;-)

~Sammy


message 31: by Sesana (new)

Sesana I've been avoiding this since it struck me right off as being manipulative and exploitative. Looks like I've made the right call.


message 32: by Megan (new) - added it

Megan I've been debating whether or not to read this book I'll think I'll read some other stuff first. Great review :)


Megan Stephen wrote: "As I was reading, I did think that alternating chapters between Jack's voice and his mother's voice might have been a better avenue. Have periods of extreme duress shown through the mother's perception (including her fears for Jack) and then abruptly switch to see the same scene through the sheltered, innocent eyes of Jack. If done right, it could have been extremely chilling. "

I completely agree with you on the alternating POV idea, Stephen. I couldn't get into this one emotionally either. I remember mostly just being annoyed and disappointed as I read/listened to it. Were you forever traumatized by the author's use of the word "some" (as in "get some" [milk]) too? I just reread my review and am scarred by it all over again.


Stephen Anne (Booklady) wrote: "This has been on 1 of my bookshelves forever. It may stay there for a little longer, unread. I had high hopes for Carry the One, but reading it was torture, sigh...

Thank you for your astute review, Stephen."


Your welcome, Anne. Keep on mind that I am in the minority on this book and there are a lot of people who love it. It just didn't click with me.


Stephen Rebecca wrote: "Thank you for the review. I think I can avoid this book now, no matter how much I have enjoyed the author's other books."

Thanks, Rebecca. A lot of people love this, but it just didn't work for me.


Stephen Synesthesia wrote: "Having read that, but When I was Five I Killed Myself had a really good child narrator."

Thanks, Synesthesia. I will check that out.


Nandakishore Varma Stephen, I loved the book precisely for the same reasons you disliked it. The detachment of Jack's POV was the winner for me.

Though I disagree with your rating, I like the way you have analysed the book.


Stephen Nandakishore wrote: "Stephen, I loved the book precisely for the same reasons you disliked it. The detachment of Jack's POV was the winner for me.

Though I disagree with your rating, I like the way you have analysed ..."


Thanks, Nandakishore. I'm glad you enjoyed this, I was really hoping to as well. I appreciate the kind words on the review even though we felt differently about it.


message 39: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich hmmm seen this book EVERYWHERE it seems. Good to know I can skip it. I remember when it came out Obama was seen reading it, wonder what he thought...


Nandakishore Varma The Oedipal relationship between Jack and Ma, with the villainous father in the background, was another aspect which impressed me. However, I seem to be the only one who have noticed this, so maybe I imagined it all! I had a very strong Oedipal bond with my mother. I was breast-fed till three, and I still have faint memories of suckling and the taste of breast milk (even at 49!). So maybe, I could identify a little with Jack.

Also, I read a lot of metaphorical allusions in the name Jack, but again, it seems only to have been me. :(


unknown "And if I am honest, I think that I filled in a lot of the gaps that you mention myself, rather than the book filling them in. I could imagine the horror the mother was feeling, so Jack's sheltered perception of it was enough for me to do that. "

i think that is what you are supposed to do -- it is essentially the reason for the choice of POV.


message 42: by Leyoh (new) - added it

Leyoh I thought it was very crass to have this released so soon after the Josef Fritzl case. I don't mind art imitating life but let's make it count.


message 43: by Autumn (new)

Autumn Leyoh, you are not alone. I had the same feelings about the timing of this book- so I have put off reading it and I might never read it.


message 44: by Autumn (new)

Autumn I like that you didn't like this book Stephen which may sound odd-- but when you think of this horrible life endured by this little boy (even if he seemed oblivious to it or detached by it) coupled with the fact that this story is from his perspective, most people expect someone to like it, to write about how it changed them, how it did evoke all these feelings--so I admire your honesty about it. Not to say that other people that were touched by this book are dishonest...I have no idea how I would feel about it...I may really like it despite my feelings about the timing.


Lauraadriana Great review and I totally agree. I couldn't even do a review for it, just rated it.


Stephen Autumn wrote: "I like that you didn't like this book Stephen which may sound odd-- but when you think of this horrible life endured by this little boy (even if he seemed oblivious to it or detached by it) coupled..."

Thanks, Autumn.


Stephen Lauraadriana wrote: "Great review and I totally agree. I couldn't even do a review for it, just rated it."

Thanks, Lauraadriana.


message 48: by Kate (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kate Stephen, I completely understand what you're saying about "care-blocking" I too had a few moments of that myself while reading it. I understood the heart wrenching circumstances, but was left wondering and wishing for more connection. However, I'm thinking the author does that on purpose to give it a more 'voyeristic' feel.


Stephen Kate, I think you are right regarding why the author chose the voice. For me, it was just unsuccessful. I'm not a tough reader to reach on an emotional level and this one left me cold.


message 50: by Kate (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kate I hear you and I've know a book or two that I haven't exactly gelled with (even though tons of other people loved it), so know exactly where you're coming from and can respect it as well. Just wanted to let you know that.


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