***Now a movie! I am looking forward to seeing it! ***
I was a fan of Emma Donoghue since reading Slammerkin many years ago.
I started this book this morning and just put it down. I was glad it was a holiday and I had nowhere to go! I just couldn't stop going back to it until it was finished.
I was hooked upon reading the first paragraph, 'Today I'm five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I'm changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. "Was I minus numbers?"'
And the story of Jack and Ma begins. The entire story is told from the perspective of Jack, a just-turned five-year-old who is living in Room with his Ma. The only thing Jack has known is Ma and Room. His day is spent utilizing the few things they have, the songs and stories his Ma remembers and the five picture books he's had read to him over and over.
Imagine being a parent living in an 10 x 10 foot room for years, trying to survive while keeping your baby growing, safe and entertained. Imagine Jack, a child who has only ever known Ma (and the late night visits from 'Old Nick' who he only sees from his vantage point in a wardrobe). Life is good for him since he knows nothing else. Empty egg shells become a snake when threaded together, empty toilet rolls become a maze when taped together, Phys Ed is sometimes Track which goes around Bed from Wardrobe to Lamp.
For Jack, his days were filled with 'thousands of things to do'; for his mom, her days were filled with the knowledge of what was outside of Room before her captivity.
Two different perspectives, two ways of looking at life.
Donoghue has done an amazing job of letting us think like a isolated, innocent boy whose life is turned upside down when he learns that Outside of Room is a big world. Up until his 5th birthday, his world was balanced, controlled and he missed nothing since he didn't know of anything else. Everything beyond the room was Outer Space. Once he was told that the there was so much more out there, fear of the unknown crept into his world.
What a wonderful job of creating their little world, of letting us into how Ma's imagination taught Jack, kept him safe, and kept him entertained. If you have children and have ever had to wait in a doctor's office or somewhere else for a few hours, it is sometimes an exhausting job of coming up with games to play to pass the time. Imagine that feat everyday, all day for years.
I had such respect for Ma as she taught Jack about so many things in a world he didn't know. Her imagination for passing the time with games using so few resources was incredible. Her love of Jack so deep and primal it made me hug my kids many more times today than usual.
And just when you think that escaping is the best thing for them, imagine what it feels like to a boy who has only known Room.
This was a fantastic story, imaginative, creative, unique and beautifully written. I never tired of reading from Jack's perspective.
I was reminded of what the world could look like from the perspective of a small child. It makes a parent want to be more kind with their words, more respectful of what their child's needs are, and more understanding when things seem confusing.
And if you think this is really contrived and just not possible, just google the name Josef Fritzl - a real life horror far greater than Room.
A wonderful book from an already favorite author.
Room is based on an original, arresting, thought-provoking premise. It's narrated by a five year old boy (Jack), who has spent his entire life living inside a small room where he and his mother are held prisoner. If you want to read the book knowing no more of the plot than that, skip to the next paragraph. His mother was abducted at the age of 19 and has been repeatedly raped: Jack being born some 2 years later. Jack's mother is frequently depressed and desperate to escape. However she has protected Jack from the realities of their situation and one of the book's central ideas is that when you know no better, you always think the world that you live in is normal and it will still represent home to you.
Having a child narrate the book is very clever in many ways. Jack is oblivious to the heroic efforts that his mother makes to protect and entertain him, but these are obvious to the reader. However he never really worked as a narrator for me. He starts the book speaking in quite broken english but quickly leaves that affectation behind. I realize that he was meant to be a highly developed child in some areas while very behind in others. But I couldn't reconcile a child who knew words like omnivore, nutritional and antenna and then at other times would describe something as "the hurtest". The first time he sees his mother vomiting he describes it as "stuff falling out of her mouth like spit but much thicker", but next moment he's calling it vomit and using the word freely from then on. All these inconsistencies kept interrupting the flow of the book for me. There were also times when I would like to have been given a better insight into the reasons for his mother's actions, which the choice of narrator made impossible.
It's a story with two distinct acts, punctuated by a nerve-wracking section in the middle. I felt that the story loses momentum in the second half of the book, petering out towards the end.
This is one of those books that sucks you into its world and makes you reconsider your own. It's a quick read that's highly absorbing. I can understand why so many people think that it's brilliant, but I only found it good, not great.
on March 30, 2011
My three-star rating is an average, based on five stars for the story and one star for the way the story is told.
The premise of the story is fascinating (disturbing, but fascinating if you can get past the disturbing part), and the way Donoghue has imagined herself into the minds of people to whom the unimaginable has happened is truly remarkable.
However, I found the voice of the 5-year-old first-person narrator incredibly annoying. The use of that voice might have been interesting if Donoghue had done it for a chapter or two -- or maybe alternated the child's voice with the mother's voice -- but over the course of an entire novel, the ceaseless childish voice came to have the effect on me of chalk on a blackboard. (And no, I don't hate children; I find many of them delightful, I just don't think they should be narrating novels for adults.)
To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, I've written a paragraph in which I've tried to imitate the style in which the book is written. If you can get through the paragraph without wanting to throw something at your computer, then by all means read the book; if you can't, then maybe you should think twice about reading the book.
Why nobody warned me about the awful of reading a story telled by a 5-year-old child? If I'd knowed, I would have putted Book back on Shelf and runned away, hippity-hop like the Runaway Bunny. Silly Me, I readed all of Book because lots of people telled me about the good of it, so I thinked it would get better in a little bit. No way Jose, Book just goed on and on like this for 321 excruciating pages. I know what excruciating means because that's what Ma says it feels like when Tooth hurts really bad, and after reading this book I knowed what she meaned. Why Emma Donoghue made this choice? I've readed lots of books else by her, but Room is my worst favorite of all the books she writed.
"Room" the new novel by Emma Donoghue, is, in a word, riveting. I've never read anything quite like it. There is a part near the middle where I absolutely COULDN'T, WOULDN'T stop reading, it was that intense. It's a pleasure to give this unique novel a five-star rating.
The story is told by 5 year old Jack, who is one of the most adorable, horrifying, precocious, interesting, pathetic and heartbreaking child narrators I've ever read. To see the world, even one as skewed and unreliable as Jack's, is to have one's eyes opened in a new way. Jacks discovery of the world awakens our own understanding.
Jack and his "Ma" live in Room. Most of the things in the room have their noun for their names. For example, the chair is Chair and the bed is Bed. In Room there is Wardrobe where Jack sleeps when "Old Nick" visits Ma at night. I'm guessing that Donoghue got some of her ideas from several recent true abduction cases and built this fascinating and horrific scenario from them.
The sense of dread builds exponentially as Jack reports on his daily life in Room. The reader, who is smarter than a 5 year old, begins to understand the gravity of the situation. The suspense builds beautifully and the pages keep turning. Donoghue masterfully creates a sense of horrible dread as well as any vintage Stephen King!
She also builds a story of familial love and support that alternately both breaks and warms the reader's heart. When the scene shifts, what happens "After" is as interesting, suspenseful and touching as what happened in Room.
I'm intentionally leaving out as many plot points as I can because part of the enjoyment of this story is wondering what will happen next to Jack and Ma.
I highly recommend this unique novel.
(possible spoiler alert on one point, below)...............................
Room is a big novel about important issues, which is significant when you consider that much of it deals with captivity in a very small place. It begins in Jack's "Room", the small, soundproof building in the backyard of a kidnapper. Placed there with the express intent to hide someone, Jack's mother is the first unwilling resident when she is kidnapped and placed inside. In the small space is a bathroom, some basic cooking equipment, and a television. Over a period of years, she gives birth to Jack, and he too is kept locked inside. However, the captivity is even more significant: he's never seen the light of day. The only outside world he's seen has come from television cartoons and from the stories his mother tells him.
The blurb on the book describes Jack being thrust out into the outside world, and I feel I need to say (here's my kind-of spoiler) that it means he and his mother escape. The reason I mention this is because I am not sure I could have kept reading the book without that development. While fascinating, it became plodding and a bit repetitive. I was about to quit when they escaped and the story enlarged to encompass Jack's assimilation into "normal" life.
Once out, Jack and his mother are thrown into a media storm of exposure, especially difficult for a child in his position. One immediately thinks of a recent real-life kidnapping case with similar details, and it makes the story that much more painful. His mother's parents are thrilled to have her back, yet learning to live in this altered reality is as difficult for his mother as for Jack. Her parents have to learn who she is all over again, and at the same time, immediately care for and get to know this charming but difficult little boy. The return to people and places is fraught with complications, and no one, not even the psychiatric specialists called in to help, knows the ideal path to 'normalcy' for Jack.
Why is this book so amazing? First, the depth of the mother's love: she manages to create, in great detail, an outside world for Jack. While only possessing a few old books, she spins stories, creates games, and tries to make the best of an impossible situation. She teaches him history, science, and scores of topics. She teaches him good and bad, and most of all, bravery. She does this without a break, and so could be called completely self-less. She doesn't dwell in pity, she puts her energy instead into making Jack a more empathetic and kind child than most in the outside world.
As a character too, Jack is amazing. His sheltered existence makes him unprepared for the complexities of the outside...even normal weather events perplex him. Interacting with family and other people is equally difficult: he can't understand sarcasm, innuendo, or dishonesty.
Room is getting a ton of buzz, and was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. It's a title that I wouldn't be surprised to see Oprah select for her book group, as it deals with a strong female character surviving tragedy. In other words, I expect this book is going to be seen everywhere for quite some time. In terms of content, it's worth noting that none of the unspeakable acts of cruelty by the kidnapper are actually discussed, only alluded to, which means this title would be safe for a young adult audience. In fact, I especially appreciated that much of the horror that you know was there isn't actually detailed.
on September 26, 2010
While I honestly didn't think that my review revealed key surprise plot details, several people have advised me that they think it does.
I apologize if this review ruined things for anyone.
<End of Edit>
Obviously from the Customer Reviews, this is a very well liked book. I also liked it but didn't love it as much as most people.
The basic premise is that a young woman has been kidnapped and confined to an 11 by 11 room in a shed for 7 years. Her captor is an older man who visits her on most nights and has sex with her. As a result of this, she has a 5 year old boy named Jack. Jack's only reality for the first five years of his life is the room. This is his norm and only he, his mother and the captor exist for him. He is permitted to watch TV but does not connect TV to the real world in the Room.
The narrator of the story is Jack which is effective in some ways as we get a first person perspective from someone who has never been outside a room. It was a daring choice. On the other hand, Jack's narration is laden with odd phrasing and perspective and becomes annoying to read after a while. The first third of the book starts to get bogged down in effect. I found it a bit gimmicky.
Once mother and child attempt to plan and execute escape, this turns into a very compelling thriller. It is both exciting and emotional. I was very affected by it even though I felt manipulated by its emotional turns. I was very invested in their escape and read this section very muich on edge.
The last third of the book starts promisingly but again I lost a lot of interest by the end.
This is a quick read and has some elements of a good thriller. The concept is gimmicky and reminded me a bit of a Criminal Minds TV episode.
I think the material was better suited for a novella and could have been much shorter. The author seemed to struggle in making it longer.
Ultimately, I liked it despite feeling manipulated. It's shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize. While I liked it enough, I'd be disappointed if it won the award.
on November 27, 2010
Hey there. Are you the person who throws out the 1 and 5 star reviews and reads the 4's - 2's? Me too. So this review is for you.
Let's begin with one question: what is a story?
A story (loosely described) is a series of escalating conflicts that result in a climax and ultimately a resolution of some nature.
I knew I was not in good hands about 30% into the story.
While her prose is decent, and the quirk of writing from the POV of the 5 year old boy not quite as gimmicky as it sounds, the story is a short story, not novel length. I was initially intrigued by the writer's story and wondered just what the hell was going on...but then after going through the boy's days about 20 times...it was clear the writer was simply thinking of "what different things could I do, if I were trapped in a room?" and not TELLING A STORY. It get's monotonous, fast.
Many people complained about the escape scene, I thought it was okay. I can stretch my disbelief in that area, just fine. Where I can't is that Jack, the young boy in the book, seems so maladjusted.
And he has a TV.
That's the biggest problem. The writer should have never put a television in the room. You see, TVs are what train most people's kids whether they like it or not. Kids learn life lessons, they learn how to treat others, they learn how to talk to other people, etc. But the writer seemed to forget this and made Jack into some kid who couldn't determine if someone was speaking directly to him or someone else...unbelievable. To the extreme.
Also, once the escape is over....THE STORY IS BASICALLY OVER...if you are looking for some excitement, or some interesting twist later in the book, there is none. The writer just starts following Jack on very boring days of him experiencing things over and over and over and over and over again. Look, I've had three kids, I know the routine, it's really not that interesting to see this kid learn new things. Sorry.
The problem is, the writer put the climax in the middle of the book. The last half is just resolution...there is no more story, there is no more conflict to drive the story forward.
on September 27, 2010
Just a warning to anyone who is considering purchasing the audio version of this book. This novel is primaily narrated by a five-year old. And for some inexplicable reason the producers of the audiobook thought that it would be a good idea to have it actually narrated by a child's voice. Not just any child's voice...a squeaky voice that sounds like a Saturday morning cartoon, or like an adult's voice that has been manipulated to sound like a child. The result is absolutely horrid...unlistenable.
A unique and challenging experience, Emma Donoghue's "Room" may be one of the biggest surprises I've had all year. Told in the language of a five year old boy with an extremely limited world view, my initial reaction to "Room" was not entirely positive. Within the first few pages, I was worried that the tone and cadence of this "child-speak" might be too precious, too constructed. But a funny thing happened rather early on as more of the story unfolded--I quit reacting to the novel intellectually and started to be affected viscerally and emotionally. I knew little of the plot in advance, so as the mysteries unraveled I became more and more invested. I am NOT a particularly sensitive reader (people would definitely describe me as unsentimental!), but halfway though "Room"--I was literally weeping.
The less you know about "Room" going into it--the better. So, for my part, I'm going to only lay out the basic premise. The protagonist Jack, in his five years of life, has never been outside of this one room. It is his entire existence, everything he knows. He and his mother have constructed a daily and weekly regimen to maintain as much normalcy as possible within the confines of their situation. A mystery as well as a thriller, a tribute to the human spirit, an ode to mother love, a character study--"Room" taps into any number of subjects quite successfully.
There are so many powerful sequences within "Room." Jack is such a fascinating and believably frustrating lead. When you don't know what the world has to offer, how can you miss it? The unknown and the unknowable play such a huge role in Jack's life, is there a way to relinquish everything you know for the chance of something better? There is a real dignity to Jack and his mother. As they confront their demons, real and imaginary, their journey is both harrowing and heartfelt. I won't soon forget this emotionally exhausting experience. Emma Donoghue has crafted, easily, one of my favorite books of the year--one that will stick with me for quite some time!
on September 18, 2010
I''ve started my review of this book about a half-dozen times. In the book trailer (and I hope you watched it), Audrey Niffenegger writes:
"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."
I picked this book up around 7:00 in the evening. I put it down at around 3:00 the next morning. When I closed my eyes out of sheer exhaustion I had dreams that centered around Room. I woke up feeling dazed and heart-broken.
Room is a book that requires intense emotional investment. That's all the warning I can give you about the story contained in this book, so when you pick it up prepare to invest in it and to lose yourself in Jack's voice. I was apprehensive for the first page or so in wondering if I could connect to Jack, the five year old narrating the story but... this worry was unfounded. I'm in awe of the power Emma Donoghue wields through the voice of Jack and think this book should be read widely.
While reading this book I was reminded of a human interest story I'd read in the news a while back. In Plant City, Florida a 6 year old girl was found living in horrible conditions. They compared (as this story has been compared) her story to that of Tarzan and speculations were going crazy about her development and how she would be affected by this.
While the similarities are not exact, Room brought back the memories I had of reading this story and evoked the same emotional rage I felt.
I feel it's important to note that although this book is narrated by a 5 year old, this is not a story for children to read. This is a very adult story with adult themes. That said, I want to encourage every single one of you reading this review to move this book to the top of your to-be-read pile and experience it. There are few books that I really get the hype on, but this book is one that deserves it.