Room – Emma Donoghue

 Short listed for 2010 Booker Prize

Room is the best book I’ve read this year. It tells the story of a woman who has been abducted and imprisoned in a single room. The book is narrated by her five-year-old son, Jack, who was born in captivity and protected from fear by his mother. On his fifth birthday she tells him the truth about their situation and Jack is shocked to discover that there is a world outside their four walls. His simple, happy life is crushed as they plot their escape and he realises that the world is much more complicated than he ever imagined.

I had heard a lot of hype about this book and wondered how it could possibly live up to the ravings I’d seen flying around the Internet. When I read the first few chapters I was a bit sceptical.  The writing style took some time to get used to (five-year-olds have a very different way of looking at the world!), but once I grew to appreciate the truth about Jack’s life I was gripped. I read the whole book in a single day, unable to tear myself away from the pages.

Jack’s mother shelters him from reality so we have to read between the lines to see the horrors that she is subjected to, but I found the insight into our society more disturbing than the physical abuse. The book asks important questions about what makes us happy and the way we look after our children. In many ways it reminded me of Flowers for Algernon, another wonderful book that questions our values.

Room 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.

It is a modern classic that will continue to be enjoyed many years from now.

Highly recommended.

Will Room win the Booker Prize?

I would love to see Room win the Booker prize, but I’m not sure it will stand up to multiple re-reads. The joy is in the way it makes us look at the world around us – the things we take for granted and the way we often forget the simple pleasures of life. I’m sure it will become a best seller and it has a very good chance of winning the Orange Prize 2011, but I think a more literary novel will scoop the Booker this year.

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  1. JoV says:

    If you say it’s good, I believe it’s good, but this is so harrowing and disturbing, especially one that involves children. I am not sure if I will pick this up.

    Glad you like it so much!

    1. Jackie says:

      JoV, I’m not sure I’d describe it as harrowing. We see everything through the eyes of the five-year-old boy and he is so innocent that he doesn’t realise there is anything wrong. He is perfectly happy in his one room world. I guess it depends on how much you read into it or whether you can see things from the child’s perspective without putting your adult knowledge onto the narrative. I’m sure that the book would be very harrowing if it was written from the mother’s perspective.

  2. Sandy says:

    Now Jackie, how am I supposed to finish my challenges (which have been nearly abandoned at this point) when you say stuff like this? How can I NOT read this now? What I love about you is that you just don’t mince words. “Best book I’ve read this year”. *sigh* OK…I’m off to my Kindle.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, LOL! That is why I didn’t sign up to many challenges :-) I am sure you’ll love this book. Enjoy!!

  3. diane says:

    Everyone is raving about this book; it is on my August stacks. Great to read your thoughts Jackie.

    1. Jackie says:

      Diane, I predict it will be your favourite of 2010 too :-)

  4. Dan Holloway says:

    Sounds absolutely fantastic. A little reminiscent of the Italian film Life is Beautiful, where a father helps his son survive Auschwitz by making it all into a game

    1. Jackie says:

      Dan, I haven’t seen Life if Beautiful, but I imagine they are similar. The boy has so much fun having continual attention from his mother – it is touching to see their strong bond and the way it advances his verbal and numerical skills. I think you’d enjoy it.

      1. NickyB says:

        I have just finished reading Room and it is quite stunning. Not at all like Life is Beautiful which I saw quite recently for the second time. (And frankly which I didn’t think worked at all, but there you go!)
        I’m not at all surpised you read it in a single sitting as it zips along, but what was extraordinary was the language. I was intrigued in the way that Emma D. got the boy Jack to describe things which was extraordinary to him, but everyday to us so that we had to guess what he was talking about. Also the way he took things quite literally.
        Delighted, also that Emma Donoghue has agreed to be interviewed for us. (Hope you don’t mind me mentioning it on your site Jackie!)

  5. I’ll be picking this up later today and even more excited now! So gad it’s a single-sitting book :)

    A friend has just told me that The Stars in the Bright Sky is “bloody brilliant” (and that it’s not essential to read The Sopranos first, even though I was asking about rereading); he did say though that it will never win as it is too accessible and funny. Isn’t it curious that we always assume that the popular and easy-to-read titles won’t win? We can think the more literary titles will win based on previous winners but every year has a different judging panel and they may just throw us a curve ball…

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, I hope that you devour it in a single sitting too!

      I would love the Booker judges to throw a curve ball on us this year – it would be wonderful if a book like Room won.

      I bought a copy of The Sopranos yesterday and it does look good. I’m saving it as light relief between the more dense narratives! I hope that I enjoy both books.

  6. Joanna says:

    I was just looking through the longlist today and Room was the book that I REALLY wanted to read. Great to see that it’s as good as it sounds, I’ll undoubtedly pick it up sooner now. :-)

    1. Jackie says:

      Joanna, It is better than it sounds!! I hope that you can get hold of a copy soon :-)

  7. This is the book with all the buzz – I’m going to have to read it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I’m often not that impressed by the books that get the hype, but in this case it is all justified :-)

      1. Excellent – I went out and bought it this afternoon!

  8. Laura says:

    Thanks for the review! I have a Book Depository coupon to use this month and am deciding how best to use it. I’m watching your reading very carefully … :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Laura, Room would be a very good use for your vouchers. Hopefull I’ll be able to add a couple more titles on to your list soon. :-)

  9. marc nash says:

    I haven’t read “Room” but what you describe sounds intriguingly like a female Mother-daughter correspondence to Cormac Mccarthy’s “The Road”. Where McCarthy externalised it with a road trip, Donoghue may have internalised it within the home? A difference between male and female spaces.

    I look forward to reading it.

    marc nash

    1. Jackie says:

      marc nash, I’m afraid I haven’t read The Road, but it is a book I’m looking forward to reading. I look forward to comparing the two :-)

  10. S. Krishna says:

    Great review. I’m actually planing on starting this one today.

    1. Jackie says:

      S. Krishna, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did. I look forward to your review!

  11. I went to three (count ’em: three!) bookstores the other day and not one of them carried this book. Can’t tell you how frustrated I was. When I asked about it, I was told that they (bookstore) tend to feature Pulitzer nominees, and what was the Booker Prize? Are you kidding me? These people work in a BOOKSTORE and didn’t know what the Booker Prize is?


    Sometimes Americans frustrate me. Especially ones that live in Nebraska (where said bookstores were located).

    1. Jackie says:

      Michele, Haven’t heard of the Booker prize? Wow! I’m quite shocked about that.

      I’m not surprised about your book stores not stocking Room though. I’ve just checked and I don’t think it is released until 13th September in the US. Sorry :-( You could always order it from the Book Depository though. I hope that you enjoy it when you get hold of a copy – you’ve put enough effort into sourcing it!

      1. marc nash says:

        re the Booker – to be fair to Americans, their authors are excluded from being nominated. So there seems a bit of chauvinism on all sides here

        1. Jackie says:

          marc, But I’d have thought UK book sellers would have heard of the Pulitzer…or am I just a bit niave?

          1. marc nash says:

            No you’re right about that! But you know what the US is like – only American teams get to compete for the Baseball WORLD SERIES!

  12. Loved your review Jackie – you always get to the heart of a book. I haven’t read it yet, but can’t wait now. I loved this blurb from Audrey Niffenegger which also sold it to me: ‘Room is a book to read in one sitting. When it’s over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lingers for days.’

    1. Jackie says:

      Thanks Sarah :-)

      Room has some impressive author blurbs! I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

  13. I’m so glad you loved this one too! When I was raving to my husband, I said the consolation for me in not winning the Booker may be winning the Orange Prize next year. If it wins both, I’ll be happy. I am curious about how well it holds up to re-reads as well. It’s so unique, and I hope it at least makes the shortlist!

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, I think there would be something wrong with the world if it failed to make the Booker short list, but who knows what goes through those judges minds! I would be shocked if it won both awards, but very, very happpy!

  14. Steph says:

    Given how much you read, it definitely means a lot that this is the best book you’ve read in 2010. Like you, I’ve been a bit wary of the hype surrounding this one, just because everyone seems to love it. I keep thinking it can’t be that good, but so many bloggers I trust are raving about it, and now you! I can’t wait for this one to go on sale here in the U.S.!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I approached this book with extreme caution as I don’t always love hyped books. I was quite cynical for the first half, but it ended up bowling me over. Perhaps I just have a soft spot for books about five-year-old boys?!

  15. tolmsted says:

    The general consensus seems to agree with you – that while good, Room probably won’t win the Booker. The Orange Prize is an interesting thought though… I could definitely see it picking that award up.

    I just bought David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, along with a copy of Cloud Atlas, which I can’t wait to start reading. I’m more excited about Mitchell than I have been about any author in a long time… I just hope I haven’t hyped him up so much in my head that he can’t live up to my expectations.

    1. Jackie says:

      tolmsted, I think I made the mistake of hyping the Mitchell too much in my head. I’m afraid I was a little bit disappointed by Thousand Autumns – I thought it was his weakest book so far. Hype is a very dangerous thing – it can work for or against a book. I hope that you enjoy Thousand Autumns depite your hype :-)

  16. Lynne says:

    I’m definitely going to read this one. It sounds wonderful. I also want to know what Forgetting Zoe is about. Love the cover, and looks intriguing.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lynne, I’m afraid that I haven’t read Forgetting Zoe yet so it might be a while before I get around to reading/reviewing it. I’ll put it to the top of my non-Booker pile just for you!

  17. I’m waiting for my copy to arrive, Jackie. Really looking forward to reading it.

    1. Jackie says:

      The Book Whisperer, I hope that you get it soon – enjoy!

  18. Patty says:

    I have heard so much about this book but I don’t think I will ever be able to read it…

    1. Jackie says:

      Patty, :-( It isn’t that disturbing, but I understand why you might want to avoid it. I’ll try to read some happier books soon.

  19. Jenners says:

    I’m adding it to my wish list now. It sounds amazing … and I know you don’t give out praise like “best book of the year” for no reason!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I realise that I’ve said it three times already this year (Rupture, Beside the Sea and Room) but books really are getting better and better :-) Hopefully I’ll get the chance to say it again sometime this year, but I don’t see how!

  20. She says:

    I’d not heard of this book before your review, but if it is relatable to Flowers for Algernon all I can say is YES PLEASE! ! !

    1. Jackie says:

      She, Yay for Algernon!! I hope that you enjoy Room!

  21. Stephanie says:

    This is an interesting premise. I am really intrigued — in a disturbing way — by the idea of a who doesn’t know that a world exists outside his four walls.

    1. Jackie says:

      Stephanie, Trying to imagine life in one Room is very hard, but it makes you realise how little you need to be happy. I agree – such a great premise for a book.

  22. Amy says:

    Wow. This book sounds absolutely amazing. Especially if it is the best book yet. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

  23. Mystica says:

    I have heard/read much about this disturbing book. I will also be keeping an eye out for this.

    1. Jackie says:

      Mystica, It does seem to be the book that every one is talking about at the moment. :-)

  24. Tricia says:

    I’m looking forward to this one!

  25. Jeanne says:

    I love to read other peoples’ best book of the year, so I’ll have to look for this one.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeanne, I know! End of year lists are so dangerous for my bank balance :-)

  26. gavin says:

    I’m waiting for this one to come in to my library! Glad to hear you rave about it.

    1. Jackie says:

      gavin, I hope that your library gets hold of lots of copies soon :-)

  27. violet says:

    oh dear, what a sad premise. But I’m sure I would like this book. Thanks for bringing it to our notice Jackie

    1. Jackie says:

      violet, I’m sure that you’ll enjoy it :-)

  28. Really want to read this – every review I’ve read of it makes it sound fantastic!! The premise is great, and it sounds like the author’s done justice to the premise as well.

    Glad you enjoyed it – hopefully, I’ll read it soon :)

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, I was amazed to read that she wrote the entire book in just six months and said it was the easiest book she’d ever written. She must really understand the characters to do such justice to them.

      I hope you enjoy it :-)

  29. Karen says:

    Jackie I have only read the first line of your review and have then stopped reading as I have this book waiting by my bed – hopefully to be picked up this weekend! I’m not really, really looking forward to it and I will definitely come back to your review once I have finished the book myself.

    1. Jackie says:

      Karen, The first line is all you need :-) Enjoy!

  30. Stephanie says:

    I have been wanting to read more of Donoghue ever since reading Slammerkin. I will definitely have to pick this one up.

    1. Jackie says:

      Stephanie, I haven’t read any of her books before, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for them now. Thanks for letting me know that you enjoyed Slammerkin.

  31. This is a fairly short but riveting read, that kept me awake for two nights. The first because I couldn’t put it down and read it in a single evening, and the second because I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Dean, I find myself thinking about it a lot too – the sign of a wonderful book!

  32. Iris says:

    That is certainly High praise Jackie! I was already planning to read Room, but it is definitely added to my wishlist now.

    1. Jackie says:

      Iris, Yeah! I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

  33. Amanda says:

    I sort of wonder what this book looks like from a non-American point of view. There have been several big news stories on this subject in the last year, so when I first heard of this book, I initially thought it was a “ripped from the headlines” sort of book and wasn’t interested at all. Then I saw many of my American friends, who would have seen those headlines, praising this book up the wall, so I’m hoping to read it one day. But it does interest me how different this book will be to people who haven’t been inundated with the same news stories…

    1. Jackie says:

      Amanda, Well I’m not American and I loved it!

      I know that Emma Donoghue got her inspiration for this book from the Fritzl case, but this book isn’t sensationalising the crime – it is taking a very different perspective to the situation – what life is like for someone born into that situation. Someone who has never experienced the outside world and is perfectly happy to live alone in one room with his mother. It is more about the bond between mother and child than any evil crime. I will be interested to read your thoughts on it though. I hope that you enjoy it.

  34. Meghan says:

    I am so glad you liked this one so much, Jackie! I have it for review, but unfortunately in the US, so I won’t be able to read it until I go back there. I’m looking forward to it now though. I wasn’t that fond of Slammerkin but it sounds like this one is completely different.

    1. Jackie says:

      Meghan, Oh no! Perhaps you could get them to post it to you? Or you might even find it in your local library. Either way I hope that you enjoy it.

  35. If you say that this is the best book you’ve read this year, then I must get my hands on it!

  36. Glad to hear you loved it so much. How did she handle the whole child’s voice narrative thing? I was a bit nervous about that. Does it ever veer towards cutesy?

    1. Jackie says:

      Lija, The child’s POV was perfect. I initially thought that he was slightly too mature for his age, but then I realised that his confinement had led him to have more instruction than most and so his improved vocab was realistic. It never veered towards cutesy, in my opinion.

  37. Beth F says:

    Relieved to see your enthusiastic review. I have this on the pile for soon.

  38. caite says:

    I am another that have this one waiting for me. I am happy you thought it was that good.

  39. stacybuckeye says:

    Best book and excellent review have me adding this to my wish list.

  40. This has been on my TBR List since I first saw it. I can’t wait to get my hands on it! Hooray that it made such a huge impression on you.

  41. Wendy says:

    Glad to see you liked this…I can’t wait to crack the spine on it!

  42. Soul Muser says:

    Yayaya! It’s my favorite too! I only had a problem towards the end when Jack’s voice loses a bit of his originality – and well, becomes a bit too preachy?


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