Jennifer's Reviews > Room

Room by Emma Donoghue
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's review
Sep 15, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 2012-reads, subject-family, type-mind-blowing, genre-realistic-contemporary, age-adult
Read from January 09 to 17, 2012

This book really captures the realities of confinement situations and the adjustments after being rescued. And this novel portrays elements of family relationships with realistic expectations. Above all, this novel is about the love a mother has for her child, and the love that child has for his mother, and the power of a mother-child bond like theirs. This book is recommended for those who really like the social sciences.


As I read this as part of a book group discussion, I have read many people’s opinions of this novel, and I feel like so many people approach this novel thinking it will be an exciting escape novel (which it is). But it is so much more than just the escape, which is why the escape happens halfway through the book. This novel delves into the psychology, sociology, and family studies social sciences behind captivity and confinement and explores the effects of such a confined life through the eyes of a five year old, who knows no different.

I have done a little bit of research on Emma Donoghue and her thoughts about why and how she decided to write this book. She based this novel on the case of the Fritzl Family. Donoghue was really interested in Felix Fritzl, who was five years old at the time of his rescue out of the basement prison in which he was born in. Donoghue based her character of Jack on the experiences that Felix must have gone through, from not knowing anything other than their prison to all of a sudden being exposed to the world outside of their “room.”

And so we have Jack, a just-turned five-year-old boy who’s whole world is an 11ft by 11ft room (as illustrated here). Through his voice (his impressively written five-year-old voice, complete with over-applied grammar rules and young child stream of consciousness, which is done absolutely brilliantly), Jack tells us the story of his life in Room, about his Ma, and about Old Nick. For a five-year-old who has only known Room, an explanation of the world outside is a huge concept to grasp, and Jack struggles with his understanding of the world his Ma once knew. And once he sees this huge world for himself, he struggles to adjust to the “lack of specific schedule” and the freedom that comes from living outside of Room.

This novel really explores the psychological effects of long-term confinement, both the confinement itself and the adjustment after being released. So if you are looking for a novel with an active plot, then this will not peak your interest, because a lot of this novel is not action-packed, but rather explores the everyday life kinds of things. However, if you understand and appreciate the social sciences, then you will be intrigued by this novel and be able to fully appreciate everything this novel is about. I say this again because I have an educational background in the social sciences of Family Studies, and many people who don’t have this kind of background (like those in my reading group) really didn’t quite grasp the importance of each and every “mundane” detail that was included in this novel. This is a novel that is geared for an audience who likes to explore elements of the social sciences.

The first half of this novel deals with the life of confinement, and the more you read and find out, the more you understand the differences between Ma and Jack. For Jack, Room is his safety net–it is all he knows, and all he wants to know, because he is comfortable living with Ma. But for Ma, since she knows what she is missing on the outside world, she sees Room as the prison in which she is being held. However, she also understands the delicate situation she is in with her son because she understands how Jack sees Room. This is why she slowly but surely tries to explain to Jack about her life before Room, about the outside world, so that they can devise and execute a plan of escape.

The second half of this novel deals with the psycological and sociological adjustments to life after escaping from their prison. For Jack, the world is HUGE and way beyond the parameters his mind has formed about life. He has to adjust physically to his surroundings, like being exposed to germs, or the sun’s rays, and learning how to judge distance, and coordination. Seemingly simple tasks, like walking down stairs, is a challenge for someone who has never seen stairs before. For Ma, it is a dream come true, yet the world has changed so much. Because of this, she too has a hard time re-adjusting, which in my opinion really captures the reality of a situation like this. It would not be so easy for a woman who has spent 7 years in sexual captivity to just re-enter the world again, especially after finding out that your parents have divorced, that your mother has remarried, and that your brother has married and has a child of his own. Then there are the relational issues that formed during confinement, like attachment issues and severe separation anxiety. And the second half of this novel delves into all of these issues and changes and realistically deals with adjusting to each one.

This novel is really brilliant because 1. it captures the POV from a 5 year old, complete with language usage and thought process and 2. it portrays the realities of a situation like the one in this novel. Though some do not like this novel, I personally really enjoyed all of the aspects that this novel offers. It intrigued the family studies part of me, and I really enjoyed reading this novel. But I do understand that it is not for everyone, and that is okay too.
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01/14/2012 page 70
10/30/2016 marked as: read
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Melissa I have my BA in Sociology, which is one of the reasons I was so drawn to this book. I really enjoyed it. Surprisingly, I haven't read any more of Donoghue's work yet.

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