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Just another review on “Room” by Emma Donoghue

Ever since last Summer this book has generated such a buzz that everywhere I turned in the blogosphere the word ROOM in red capital letter staring at my face. I am the last person in the universe that has yet to read the book, that is until now….

Is there any wonder why I have sweaty palms about writing this review? 😦

I’m sure everyone knows the plot by heart now but in case I have Alzheimers towards the end of my life, I’ll just include a synopsis here to remind what this book is all about!

‘Room’ opens with the fifth birthday of Jack. Slowly he describes his typical day in his endearing ways, we come to realise that he is describing a confined place, a room, he was born and has lived with his mother with ‘Old Nick’ who comes by at night and brings them food and Sunday treats and most disturbing part for me was Jack hidden in the wardrobe and the creaking of the bed. Perhaps it is best if the book Room was not so well loved, because before I read the book I more or less know the premise of the book, it takes all the fun out of it. and Yes, Donoghue wrote this book inspired by the Fritzl case, where Elisabeth Fritzl and her children were found to have been incarcerated in the basement of their captor’s (in this case, Joseph Fritzl, the woman’s father and children’s father/grandfather) house in Austria, which proves to be the most chilling and horrifying crime that churns my tummy every time it is mentioned.

The Room is a eleven feet by eleven feet and converted garden shed with a security door and a skylight. It is set somewhere in America. Jack’s Ma was abducted at the age of 19 and has been incarcerated for 6 years.

I thought the creative use of language through Jack was a ingenuous. The little thing that he appreciates and the self-devised games was endearing. But here’s the problem..

It was an ok read but I thought it was meh.

May contain spoilers

I was kind of surprised that little Jack made his escape so early in the book and the rest of the book was spent talking about Jack and mental disorder Ma adjusting to the real world after 6 years of incarceration. The other half of story became a little superfluous for an otherwise a heavy subject of the premise. Ma was rude to the nurses and Grandma (Ma’s mother) was complaining about having Jack with her and I thought: is this necessary? Maybe the writer was trying to project Ma in a very unstable state of mind but it came out quite disjointed. It is like Ma is all out to be rude (to the nurses and her own mother) rather than experiencing mental health issue. Say if the book was to play out the innocence of Jack and the tension of the days in the Room side by side, I think it would have stood a chance to sit alongside the works of literary greats.


Perhaps like Ti of Book Chatter I’m the sort who like to read this sort of books from Ma’s perspective. It would be harrowing but at least it feels grounded and set out not to make light of the circumstances both mother and child were in.

I read this in one day. It does feels gimmicky, the escape plan immature and flawed, aftermath frivolous and loose. All I really like about the book was the creative use of language from Jack.

I’m generally attuned to what people say is a good book. A lot of recommendations I picked up, it hardly disappoints. It is strange to find myself put off by this book.

This is heralded as the best book of 2010, today I saw the ad on a bus, the book is publicised everywhere I look. Tell me, am I the only who thinks the book is meh? is it all the hype that break it for me? Did I miss something?

I had never felt my views this polarised from everyone else’s until now. 😦

Other views (every blogger I know has read it!)

Ti of Book ChatterRoom boasts an original premise but falls flat from overly simplistic writing and one-dimensional characters.

Rhapsody in Books: This book tells a nightmarish story, and yet, since it comes entirely from five-year-old Jack’s perspective, it is much less disturbing than it could have been.

Matt@ A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook: The one flaw that offsets the unique premise and creativity of the book is the lack of depth in which Donoghue would explore the gamut of emotions that should befall anyone who has been held in captivity for years. Consider the details (at times contrived) she goes into the regimened life in the Room, the post-liberation life is drawing a blank, which is a grave oversight. There exists an unforgivable disconnection between the intense trauma during captivity and the casual voice with which the novel is told.

Vishy’s BlogRoom’ is one of the most beautiful books that I have ever read. Fellow book blogger Kelly says that it is a book that should be read by everyone. I second her. Go get it today and read it.

Bookie Mee: I was a bit impatient at the beginning about the description of their day to day life and Jack’s voice felt somewhat gimmicky. But the pace started to move quicker after the circumstances have been fully introduced and he really grew on me. I was very fond of him at the end and satisfied with the ending

Jackie @Farmlane BooksRoom is easy to read and will have broad appeal. I’m sure I’ll be thinking about Jack for many years to come and I know that since finishing the book I’ve been looking at the way I spend time with my own sons slightly differently.

Simon@Savidge ReadA book that will: quite possibly leave you a little breathless and remind you what reading is all about and may have you running out to buy it for everyone you know. 10/10

This book is shortlisted for 2010 Man Booker Prize and now Orange Prize 2011.

PaperbackPublisher: Picador 2010Length401 pages ; Setting:  Present day America.  Source: My own copy. Finished reading at: 29 May 2010.

About the Writer:

Emma Donoghue (born 24 October 1969) is an Irish-born playwright, literary historian and novelist now living in Canada. Her 2010 novel Room was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and an international bestseller. Donoghue’s 1995 novel Hood won the Stonewall Book Award and Slammerkin (2000) won the Ferro-Grumley Award. Her most recent collection of short stories, Touchy Subjects was published in 2006.

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


27 thoughts on “Just another review on “Room” by Emma Donoghue

  1. I had quite a few complaints about the escape and the second half, but I always try to do reviews without spoilers (mostly because I can’t figure out how to do the white text thing!) so I couldn’t mention them. But the biggest complaint for me was the assumption that this kidnapper sicko guy would NOT just bury Jack in the backyard – or for that matter, unroll the rug. Why would he go to all the trouble to do what Ma wanted him to do? And Ma putting all that faith in a 5 year old kid to do exactly what she said? And Ma going back to Room in spite of the trauma just because Jack wanted to, instead of explaining to him why she couldn’t? etc etc. Still, I enjoyed it, partly because I listened, and the audio was acted out and the voice of Jack was terrific.

    Posted by rhapsodyinbooks | May 31, 2011, 10:39 pm
    • Jill,
      I totally, totally agree with you!!! Since I’m the last person on earth who hasn’t read this book until now, you are free to talk about the spoilers! Yes! Why trust a 5-year-old kid? and why Ma has to GO BACK to the ROOM???!!! It is totally perverse! I’m sure the Audio book was a different sort of experience totally. I’m glad you listen to the audio rather than reading it. It’s always nice to hear a 5-year-old boy speaks into your ears. 🙂

      Posted by JoV | May 31, 2011, 10:57 pm
      • I thought the first half of the book was much, much stronger than the second half, but I could also see why Donohue made the choice to deal with Jack and Ma’s lives after Room. It would have been difficult to make an entire book set in the Room, and ending with an escape, without its seeming like a glibly happy ending to a situation for which there are no happy endings.

        However, I could buy Ma putting the plan on the kid. I thought Donohue did a good job of portraying how she was so desperate she couldn’t think of anything else to do. I think it wouldn’t have worked in real life, because it depended too much on the bad guy’s doing what they expected him to do, but then I’ve never been held prisoner for five years in someone’s backyard. So I don’t know.

        (For what it’s worth, I do think a skilled kidnapper and sex-slave-haver would be reluctant to bury a body in the backyard. I just read an article about a lady serial killer who buried people in her backyard, and the smell was apparently unbearable.)

        Posted by Jenny | June 1, 2011, 12:35 am
  2. Interesting review, Jo! Sorry to know that you found the book ‘meh’ 🙂 I can understand your perspective on it though – the first half of the book definitely seems to be stronger than the second half. But I liked the second half too. For me it was one of my favourite books of last year. I still remember the first page of the book – the conversation between Jack and Ma was so endearing and beautiful!

    Posted by Vishy | June 1, 2011, 5:11 am
  3. I found this book so ‘meh’ I didn’t finish it, just thought it was a big gimmick

    Posted by bernadetteinoz | June 1, 2011, 8:36 am
  4. I have not yet read Room-maybe when I see it in paper back I will be motivated-well done review as always

    Posted by Mel u | June 1, 2011, 9:45 am
  5. I haven’t read it, and I don’t intend to because of the subject matter, which does not appeal to me in the least.

    Posted by Maxine | June 1, 2011, 12:32 pm
    • Maxine,
      Always good to know what suits and what doesn’t suits one taste bud. I respect that a lot and make sure one only read books that you really want to read! Thanks for dropping by.

      Posted by JoV | June 1, 2011, 3:40 pm
  6. I was in the category of those who found Room absolutely gripping from start to finish. You can read my thoughts here: http://mybookyear.co.uk/room-emma-donoghue

    Posted by Graham | June 1, 2011, 1:54 pm
  7. I still, after all these months can’t figure out why people liked this one so much. The author took the easy path and decided to completely ignore the awfulness of the situation by telling it from Jack’s point of view.

    Come on people…get REAL. An abduction of this type would be horrific. Just the thought of a child being involved makes it so much worse, but we needed to see Ma’s anguish..her pain. When she got out, she should have had some sort of breakdown. Perhaps she did, in her own way, as she immediately turned into a nasty, rude individual but there was no breakthru, not really.

    Sure, people don’t want to read graphic details about the rape…I completely understand that, but emotion would have been good. And the escape… don’t even get me going about the escape. Rolled up in a rug? Really? A pen to the eye would have been more plausible. Electrocution also came to mind.

    Posted by Ti | June 1, 2011, 5:42 pm
  8. I ve not read it Jov and don’t think I will be I just can’t connect with the book or the writer ,I vbe seen her talk about this many times and I found her take a bit cynical ,she wrote after the case in austria and think that she has ridden wave of that a bit ,all the best stu

    Posted by winstonsdad | June 1, 2011, 9:48 pm
    • Stu,
      Connection to the writing is important. I tried “Water for Elephants” and I couldn’t connect to it in the first few pages. Despite rave reviews about it. I agree that Room has ridden wave of a horrifying case in Austria. Good for her to know how to market her goods, but it is not the stuff for prize winners.

      Posted by JoV | June 2, 2011, 8:36 am
  9. Oh no. you aren’t the only one. I think right after I finished the book, I liked it a bit – there were some aspects (like Jack’s inability of understanding the outside world, his space-estimate problem) which I thought were really clever and well-caught consequences of growing up in a tiny room. But then all the minus points began bothering me – like that escape! That was the lamest plot point I ever read in a literary book and that makes me very disappointed to see this book in many award lists. I just didn’t feel that this book merited that.

    Posted by Aths | June 4, 2011, 7:23 pm
  10. Jo – you’ll be pleased to know you are not entirely the last person to have read Room as I haven’t read it yet! But I agree – it must be one of the most popular books in a long time. I was in a reading slump when it was doing the rounds and for some reason haven’t felt drawn to it since – I’ve skipped through the bit of your reveiw with spoilers but I’m not sure I will end up reading it anyway – it will be really interesting to see if it wins the Orange Prize on Wednesday – I enjoyed your post on the shortlist 0:)

    Posted by Tracey | June 5, 2011, 9:53 am
    • Tracey, Aww… that makes me feel a little better. LOL 😀 I’m joking. It’s so popular I don’t really understand the reason why. I suggest you try Annabel or Great House, it’s a fulfilling reading experience for me. Thanks for dropping by Tracey! 🙂

      Posted by JoV | June 5, 2011, 10:00 am
  11. If you are looking for a book from Ma’s perspective then I suggest that you read Forgetting Zoe by Ray Robinson, but I think you are missing the point of this book. It isn’t really about abduction. The book is more about our society and the way we raise our children. Jack is really happy in the tiny room, as long as he has the attention of his mother. I think the book is showing how little our children need to be happy in the first half. In the second half Jack has access to anything he wants, but he isn’t happy because he just wants his mother’s love. The book does a great job of showing our obsession with material wealth, the way our families are breaking down and the terrible way the media intrudes on lives. I agree that certain aspects weren’t very realistic (the escape!) but stranger things have happened in real life and I was prepared to forgive these tiny flaws for the great message in the rest of the book.

    Posted by Jackie (Farm Lane Books) | June 7, 2011, 7:05 am
  12. Interesting review Jo! I think expectation is an evil thing and you just have expected too much when you read it. I read it very early on and just read maybe 2 reviews before I read it. I gave it 4.5 star mainly for the ‘entertainment’ value (obviously the subject matter is quite horrifying but the novel is gripping, and the real life story is actually worse than the novel). I found Ma being rude outside to be believable. I mean after going all through that you’re probably in very bad mood and socially inept for not interacting with people for so long. Yea the escape is unlikely, but hey I can see it as one of those days when things just work to your advantage. It’s called fate lol.

    Posted by meexia | June 28, 2011, 12:43 pm
    • Mee,
      Not sure about the expectation though. If I haven’t heard of it perhaps I would like it more but I didn’t even like her writing style! Fate! Yes, I suppose it is. I was hoping Donoghue would have peppered it with a bit more drama or caution, and make it believable. It’s her fault! LOL 😀

      Posted by JoV | June 28, 2011, 8:34 pm


  1. Pingback: Book Read! Room « The Books of Life! - June 13, 2011

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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