mark monday's Reviews > Room

Room by Emma Donoghue
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really liked it
bookshelves: these-fragile-lives, rain-man-reviews, super-private-journal, mnemonic-devices

Jesus Christ on a popsicle stick, i can't believe i have to read this! argh. my colleague Michael (hopefully not a GR member) loaned this to me; clearly he knows that i am a "reader". but just as clearly he does not get that i like my books to have at least an edge of un-reality to them. you know, fantasy. horror. science fiction. historical fiction. and if not that, then just something, anything that moves them away from mainstream depictions of the modern real world. now Room looks like a snapshot of life right from the news. or right from my place of work! good grief, i deal with depressing enough stuff already goddamnit! reading the back cover description was like reading the label of a bottle of poison - i do not want to drink this. but fine, i respect you Michael and so i will read this one. just don't get mad if it takes me two months to get through this fucking thing.


it took me over two weeks to finish the first half. i finished the second half during an afternoon and part of an evening. an amazing novel and a very emotional experience. i think i'll save writing a review for a little bit and let it sink in for a while.


it's hard for me to define exactly why the first half of the novel was so hard to get through. at first i convinced myself that the child's perspective was just too "hearbreakingly poignant", and i am not the kind of person who is enthusiastic about reading works of heartbreaking poignance. but that is patently false; i love those kinds of books although i would never admit it openly. well, i'd say it in a GR review, but i would never say that out loud, if that makes sense. perhaps i'm a hypocrite that way. so then i convinced myself that there was just something wrong with the narrator's voice, something off, he just seemed - at different points - to be either too precocious or too simple for a child his age. i compared him a lot to my nephews, and it didn't gel - his thought process did not parallel their thought process. but then i thought about this kid's situation, the extreme sort of home-schooling he received, the protective wall that his amazing mom built for him, the way he interpreted the world...and it made sense, a whole lot of sense. his voice turned out to be a very real one for me, at least based upon my understanding of his young life.

and so i realized that the reason i was avoiding coming back to Room's first half was more basic, more simple. it made me want to cry, all the time. perhaps i'm too soft, maybe i just have too thin a skin. it's not like i have any illusions about kids - they are not saints to me, nor are they just tiny adults. i'm comfortable around children and i prefer them to many adults i've met, but i don't idealize them either. however i do have a big natural urge to protect them. i'm not sure where that comes from; i don't think it's based on genetics or upbringing. and so it was just really hard to return again and again to a novel that had as its central situation the kind of thing that i try actively to never contemplate. as in, i'll turn the channel or put down the paper if i come across a story like this one. to be honest, each time i read a few lines of the first half, my eyes would well up a little, that shortness of breath thing happened - and often in public, on the bus, at a coffeeshop, reading at a lunch spot. the private world of this novel became a public experience to me. i avoided this book at first because i do not like to appear weak - to the world around me, or to myself.

i told the guy who loaned me the book about my issues and was given some advice: just stick with it, it will open up and it will be beautiful. and so i did. and the book did. it was good advice.

the first half of the book was beautiful as well. wonderfully written. but thank God, the second half really did open up. it was like taking a breath of wonderful, clean air, somewhere in nature, away from the city. the humor remained but it was transformed into something wry, something that was still poignant but with a sheen of sardonic humor that i appreciated (and, truth be told, perhaps had a level of distance to it that i rather lazily connected to as well). the anger i felt in the first half towards Old Nick was inchoate - the kind of blind rage that i feel towards anyone who'd harm a child. the anger i felt in the second half was of a kind that is more comfortable, more familiar - towards the media, towards pop psychology, towards various institutions and the like. the second half had lessons to be learned - lessons about perception and isolation and materialism and the family bond and the bond between mother & son, protector & protected. the simple fact of "lessons to be learned" made the second half so much easier to read, it made the narrative positively propulsive in my desire to learn what was going to happen next. the horribly (and needfully) static nature of the book's first half was replaced by an emotional dynamism that really grabbed me. again, this is not a critique of the first half, which i think was perfectly written. instead, it is a critique of my own ability to deal with challenging, terrifying situations involving kids - since i couldn't do anything to stop or even hurt Old Nick, i wanted only to look away. and so the second half turned out to be more of a familiar road, with familiar pleasures. the first half of the book was horribly unique and my mind balked. the second half eased me back into a world i could deal with, respond to, and not shut down. at the end of the second half, the end of the novel itself, i read those last few sentences over and again, closed the book, and cried. such a relief. it's funny to think of all the tears i had saved up.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
September 1, 2011 – Shelved
October 10, 2011 – Shelved as: these-fragile-lives
April 17, 2013 – Shelved as: rain-man-reviews
May 12, 2013 – Shelved as: super-private-journal
December 16, 2018 – Shelved as: mnemonic-devices

Comments Showing 1-50 of 108 (108 new)

Wendy Darling I'm curious what you'll think of this one, Mark...

mark monday uh oh, seeing your 1 star rating just made me turn the excitement-o-meter down another notch!

well, the first few pages have been fine, no complaints yet.

Wendy Darling I have complicated feelings about this one. Look forward to comparing notes!

Shovelmonkey1 You had my like at Jesus Christ on a popsicle stick...perhaps you could forward that to the people who wrote the recipe book "On a stick" which was recently reviewed by Karen as they seem to have overlooked that one.

mark monday ah, Karen. the GoodReads All-Star! her reviews are a delight.

message 6: by Kay (new)

Kay This review made me smile. I am in a similar situation, though I'm reading "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. Bestsellers aren't ususally the books that end up on my shelf, and I wouldn't have picked it up if it weren't for my book club. The club is meeting in less than a week, and I still haven't *coughstartedcough* gotten past the first couple of pages.

mark monday i'm in a similar situation...i'm seeing the person who loaned me the book at a meeting tonight and i'm sure he'll expect a status update! ah well. the first chapter wasn't bad at all, but i am taking any awfully long time to read it. the enthusiasm is just not there.

message 8: by Kay (new)

Kay There are two choices in my mind: (1) Read the first two chapters, skim the rest, and wiki the book to get through the first deadline and read the rest later, or (2) pull an all-nighter with a bottle of wine (because everything is so much better when slightly inebriated). Who says college doesn't teach you life skills. :p

mark monday i say option 2! although if the meeting is a week away, you can stretch that out and avoid an all-nighter with multiple nights of inebriated Help segments of reading & drinking. make a college drinking game of it - for example, drink everytime the word ma'am is used!

message 10: by Kay (new)

Kay If there were a like button for comments, I would have clicked it for yours.

message 11: by Mike (new)

Mike Puma I used to take suggestions for books very reluctantly. Then I stumbled into GR. Now I still take suggestions reluctantly, but dammit, people do point out some pretty amazing things to read. Somehow suggestions from strangers work better for me.

message 12: by Bill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill Interesting, I had the reverse experience with Room: I burned through the first half, then took longer to get through the 2nd half.

message 13: by Kay (new)

Kay Just saw your rating (!!!!!!) I am looking forward to the review!!

Wendy Darling I know you rarely read teen fiction, Mark, but you might give Living Dead Girl a try sometime. Similar subject, written with a great deal of sensitivity and insight.

message 15: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday thanks for the recommendation - will do! although the subject does look equally challenging (for me).

Wendy Darling It's a tough subject for sure. I don't know why I read so many books about it. :/

message 17: by Kay (new)

Kay Very lovely review. Thank you for sharing something so close to your heart. I think I'll pick this book up and give it a shot!

message 18: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday thanks - and looking forward to your thoughts on it!

message 19: by Antiloquax (new)

Antiloquax Thanks for this review, Mark. I have this on my Kindle and your review has certainly moved it up my to read list!

message 20: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday thanks! hope to see a review. i've been enjoying going through what seems like thousands of reviews of Room. so many passionate reviews.

hey Antiloquax, i just looked up what "Antiloquax" means. fascinating!

Blake Fraina I think, when reading something that's emotionally difficult, it's important to divorce yourself a bit from the plot and try to glean the writer's message or theme. I think that makes it easier than reading the story as if it's somehow factual.

Because I know that Emma Donohue is a lesbian-feminist, I was able to approach it from the feminist angle, so what I think she was trying to say had little, if anything, to do with the surface storyline. It's more a comment on modern gender relations than about a [relatively] small-scale phenomenon. Small-scale in terms of how many men (compared to ALL MEN ON THE ENTIRE PLANET) who actually (literally) keep women captive for years. My review reflects the notion that she was, quite possibly, trying to address something much larger and more common.

I think, for me, the most difficult and disturbing books to read are the ones that seem to have been written without any theme or viewpoint. If something is upsetting and I think the author is "getting off" on the material or is just cashing in on something exploitative, then I don't see the point. This is why I tend to avoid all those cheapie e-books being written for the BDSM/Humiliation crowd.

I thought Room was quite good, but hardly Booker material. Anyhow, I applaud you for getting through it.

message 22: by mark (last edited Oct 04, 2011 01:36PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday I think, when reading something that's emotionally difficult, it's important to divorce yourself a bit from the plot and try to glean the writer's message or theme.

in my case, that is easier said than done! i am usually able to accomplish that with ease and can often balance an emotional response with intellectual analysis. but not so much when the topic is some form of child abuse. i find that very hard to handle on an emotional level, and so my critical faculties are usually at a low in those situations.

My review reflects the notion that she was, quite possibly, trying to address something much larger and more common.

i think your review is quite brilliant. it certainly brought things to mind that i didn't consider when reading the novel. well, except during the press conference scene - i remember thinking, just a little bit, things along the lines of your take on the novel.

when looking past my emotional reaction to the novel, i would say that the only thing that i really thought about on an intellectual level when reading it (when i was even up to and able to deconstruct its meaning and message), is its use of fairy tale templates - including ogre, kidnapped princess, child of two worlds, and of course the language of children's stories and fairy tales that is rife in the first half.

i considered writing my review based entirely on that layer, but in the end i thought it would be more interesting (and personally important) to instead write about my strong emotional reactions, the narrative of my emotional experience so to speak.

I think, for me, the most difficult and disturbing books to read are the ones that seem to have been written without any theme or viewpoint.

i'm not sure i'm wrapping my mind around what you are saying here and i'm hoping you can explain more. do you mean, for example, genre novels that are all narrative? or are you only talking about the specific example you cited, BDSM e-books?

if you are talking about that subgenre specifically, i haven't that much experience with those books. but i have read Never the Face: A Story of Desire, which is a troubling and problematic novel - but still one with a very specific viewpoint. and a disturbing theme. i am definitely not recommending that one (it was a challenging but overall mediocre experience)...but it does have "things to say" that move it beyond pure pornography or existing only to get its author or reader off.

Anyhow, I applaud you for getting through it.

thank you - and thanks for your own compelling review! and your comments here.

message 23: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Hahaha, if we ever meet in person I now plan to enthuse loudly about the "heartbreaking poignance" of some book.

message 24: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday i plan on cringing, and having no idea of what in the world you could be talking about!

message 25: by Miriam (new)

Miriam That's one of the nice things about San Francisco; you can always plausibly pretend embarrassing friends are crazy strangers.

message 26: by Stacey (new) - added it

Stacey Lynn Lol. FANTASTIC review! Id love to follow your reviews so please add me as a friend!

message 27: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday thanks Stacey! just check out my About Me, and if you're ok with that, send me a friend request and it will be no problem.

message 28: by Annie (new)

Annie I can't imagine having to explain to the Savior the phrase you used at the beginning of your review.

message 29: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday you've never heard of that phrase before Annie? it's been around a while. here let me help you out:

message 30: by Kris (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kris Loved, actually enamored by your review. Never had I read a review so honest. Do you write? Because if you don't, maybe you should..... :-)

message 31: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday my gosh, thanks Kris. i appreciate it.

nope, haven't seriously written, or rather, completed anything since my 20s (although i've posted those embarrassing bits here on my GR profile). but now that i've hit my 40s, it is a goal. someday...

message 32: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Whitford Amazing review. Though I don't think that I could actually read this book as I am a mother and an emotional mess over the smallest things (sniff sniff) I appreciate that you stuck with it and shared your experience. I loved that you gave the review from an emotional place more than a technical one, it just felt more relatable to me. I respond to the emotions of a book much more then technical accuracy, though I realize that is important as well.
Your review was both beautifully vulnerable and poetically written, and it was an experience to read it. Thank you.

message 33: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday thank you Elizabeth! i also tend to respond more to the emotional content of a book than to the technical ability. i guess it's the difference between feeling/experiencing something and appreciating something intellectually. i do both, but i my strongest responses tend to be from the former category.

message 34: by Kasia (new) - added it

Kasia Wonderful review, felt like stream of consciousness but with many deep layers at the same time, looking forward to this one although books such as this one can be emotionally taxing, who said reading is easy? :P

message 35: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday a month late, but thanks Kasia! it is a stream of conscious review, but during 3 different periods of time. sometimes it takes me a while to get through an emotionally taxing book, even an excellent one like Room.

message 36: by unknown (last edited Mar 15, 2012 09:34PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

unknown reviews in my feed made me revisit the page for this book... i missed your review before. nice job!

while i understand what you are saying about the first half, i actually found that part of the book easier to read because despite what readers know is a messed up situation, jack has no idea he is being abused and in fact is quite content in his world and with his mom. the saddest thing is how resolutely she defends his innocence. (i read a lot of reviews earlier that harshly criticized mom for (view spoiler))

i found the second half much more painful, because suddenly jack knows what he had, and lost, at least a bit. the ending is also wrenching. "it's so small." as adults, we sometimes wish we could go back to a time when the world was small, but we can't, because we know it's a lie.

message 37: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday our opposite reactions are a funny thing. i've found that there are a lot of folks who feel the same as you. but for me, that real world outside of the Room was just such a relief. my mind balked at wanting to put itself in the Room with Jack during the first half.

as far as folks who criticize the mom... i have no time for them. bullshit! total bullshit.

as adults, we sometimes wish we could go back to a time when the world was small, but we can't, because we know it's a lie.

so sad, and so true.

btw, your review is awesome. one of your very best reviews imo.

just took another look at it. love that part about 'the malleability of a child's mind'.

unknown thanks! it is definitely one of my most popular... i would estimate half of my friend requests are from people who voted for that review or The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

message 39: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday i think half of mine may come from my review of A Storm of Swords. no doubt due to the pictures and my various sad attempts at being funny. and yet my Storm review numbers have nothing on your Room or Girl reviews. the number of Likes on those two literally boggle my mind!

unknown mark wrote: "mark monday i think half of mine may come from my review of A Storm of Swords. no doubt due to the pictures and my various sad attempts at being funny."

you should add some bolding and italics.

unknown maybe even... bold italics .

message 42: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars


Jason I think my favorite review of yours, Joel, is nick & norah. I love it. Love it!

Linda @Mark's Monday Review... I really enjoyed this book. That Is not what I want to post. Growing up I thought I heard every Jesus Christ slang phrase...BUT I have never heard "on a popsicle stick"... Christ on a pony, Jesus jumped up Christ, Jesus h. Christ and many others. Thank you for the laugh and new Jesus slang! :-)

message 45: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday it is my pleasure, Linda!

Linda ;-)

message 47: by Evan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Evan For me, the first two chunks were the artistic and genius part, and the rest was sappy and depressing ("we're trying to cope with normalcy"). While a nice fish-out-of-water piece, part 3 was dull, in my opinion, after an earth shaking first half.

message 48: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday although i disagree with your thoughts on the 2nd part, i definitely agree that the first part was really where the author's talent shined. or is that "shone"? anyway, yeah, that first half is really original. and painful!

Sarah beautiful review. you had me tearing up there! I love this book.

message 50: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday well thank you Sarah! the book is such a moving and emotional experience.

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