Tung's Reviews > Room

Room by Emma Donoghue
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Jan 01, 2012

it was ok
Read in January, 2012

** spoiler alert ** Room was on almost everyone’s Top Ten Books of 2010 lists, and was even a finalist for the Booker, so I know how highly acclaimed it is. Several friends of mine who’d read the book, also insisted I read it; so I know I’m voicing a minority opinion in this review. I really, really wanted to like this book, but ultimately, I found more annoyances than positive traits. (Lots of spoilers ahead) Room is the fictional story of a woman (we never get her name beyond “Ma”) who is kidnapped and held as a prisoner in an 11’x11’ shed for seven years. She is impregnated by her captor, and is raising her son Jack in that confined space for the entirety of his five years alive. The story is told from Jack’s perspective, a young child having never experienced any world beyond the tiny room that is their home.

In the first half of the book we get to see the details of their life together: their wake-up/bedtime routines, the games they play together, their intimate interactions. There is a lot of sweetness in this part, which is why so many folks are fans of this book. You get to see the kind of love displayed by Ma for her son: her protection of him, her nurturing, her shielding him from the reality of the wretchedness of their situation. It reminded me a lot of the movie Life is Beautiful.

For different reasons, their situation worsens, and Ma realizes they need to escape sooner rather than later. They feign Jack’s death, which is the only way one of them can leave the room. Jack manages to jump from the back of their captor’s pick-up truck, which leads to their eventual release. The second half of the book describes their re-introduction to the real world, a world Jack could not have imagined existed and one he has a difficult time trying to fit into his worldview and understanding of life. This section, I felt, was the strongest-written of the two halves. We get a good sense of how confusing things are to someone whose only experience was isolated intimacy with his mother.

My first criticism of the book is its language – a simplified form of English with some adjustments made to nouns and verbs to make it sound like its coming from a five-year-old. The voice was one of the reasons I had delayed reading this book because I really disliked the last book I read that used a child’s voice as the main perspective (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night – UGH). While much of the voice seemed appropriate, there were way too many instances of childish phrasing that for me felt like artificial attempts to make the language kid-like. For instance, Jack describes how his mom put food in the oven to “hot the food”. My daughter is four, and she doesn’t talk like that. You can say that maybe Jack’s development is delayed because he grew up in the manner that he did. Unfortunately, there are scenes in the book where Jack and his mom watch TV and she makes him mimic what is being said on TV to train his speech. He is definitely not delayed in his speech or intelligence, so such artifice was unnecessary; it was just annoying.

My second criticism is that in some of the scenes in the second half of the book, Donahue gets carried away and decides to use Jack’s new experiences in the world to moralize. Jack is in a shopping mall and Donahue uses him to discuss how Jack didn’t understand why people bought lottery tickets and how stupid that was. In another scene she uses Jack to discuss how he noticed adults didn’t like playing with their children, and would much rather talk to other adults and his Ma never did that with him. Donahue does this to highlight how materialistic we are, and how much food we waste, and so on. The unnecessary sermonizing broke my attention to the story.

Finally – and this criticism will make me sound like a monster, but whatever – I simply had little empathy for Jack in many parts of the book. Yes, he’s acting like a 5-yr-old, and yes he grew up in a wretched situation, but he’s imaginary so I’m not going to spend real empathy for a fictional character, and I’ll judge him by his actions. And throughout the book, he’s acting like a complete brat. Some of his acting-up was to highlight how difficult a transition it was for him into the real world. Some of those I could understand and look past. A few times in the first half of the story, his brattiness was just used as a means to advance the plot. Those I could mostly understand and get past as well. But many instances were him simply being a brat, and I couldn’t stand the kid for it, I’m sorry. It’s a recommended read (barely) since I know many will be able to get past my criticisms, and as I mentioned there are moments of sweetness here. For me, there were just too many times I sighed while reading it, and put the book down in annoyance.
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Kathy Manus I, unlike you, really enjoyed the book. However, after reading your review of the novel,I can completely see where you're coming from. I agree with the language Donahue used for Jack. I have a 6 year old and a 4 year old and even when they are playing and using "baby talk" their phrasing is correct. I thought the first part of the book was better written than the second. I thought that it was during the second part of the book that the characters began to lose some the appeal they had at the beginning. I thought that Ma's suicide attempt was a bit much as well as the hesitation to accept Jack on the part of her father. I can't imagine any father acting like that. Thanks for your review. I liked it.


message 3: by Tung (last edited Jan 07, 2012 09:46PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tung Yeah, Ma's father and his dislike of Jack -- I forgot to mention that, but it drove me crazy as well.


message 2: by duma (new)

duma I like your reviews but they are hard to read as a solid block of text with no paragraphs.


Tung duma wrote: "I like your reviews but they are hard to read as a solid block of text with no paragraphs."

Thanks for the feedback, duma. Especially true for long reviews. I'll see if I can break it up.


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