Review: Room

Room Book Cover

By Emma Donoghue
Little Brown & Company
September 2010

The Short of It:

Room boasts an original premise but falls flat from overly simplistic writing and one-dimensional characters.

The Rest of It:

*No Spoilers*

For those who are not aware of the premise, a young woman is abducted and forced to live in a room that is only 11 x 11 in size. There, she gives birth to a baby boy by the name of Jack. As Jack grows-up, his main source of information comes from his mother and what she chooses to teach him, as well as the knowledge he obtains from the few amenities afforded to him while in captivity.

The story is told from Jack’s point of view. This works to a degree, in that it makes it easier to read. At five years of age, Jack doesn’t fully understand what is going on. As a reader, I was comforted by his innocence but also felt an overwhelming sense of sadness about their situation. In this sense, using Jack as the storyteller worked.

We’re shown early on that Jack is an exceptional child. His vocabulary, for a child in his particular situation is quite advanced. This is where I had problems with believability. The conversations that he has with his mother (only known as Ma) don’t match his every day thought processes. He thinks as a five-year-old would,  but there were spots where he speaks like a much older child. This struck me as odd and pulled me out of the narrative many times.

As we get further into the story, I wanted to know more about Ma. I wanted to hear her point of view but we never get that. In fact, her real name is never revealed. She is just known as “Ma” and to me, not giving her an identity seemed almost criminal.

Without giving away the plot, I will say that the second half of the book is quite different from the first half. Whatever pulled me in during that first half, was gone by the second half. I felt as if the author threw things in to make the story more plausible. She was correct to do it, as plausibility is key to a story like this, but what she tossed in wasn’t fully fleshed out. It seemed formulaic to me and not written from the heart. Because of it, I lost that connection to the characters and in a book that only has a character list of just a few people, that’s not good.

To sum it up, Donoghue did an excellent job of creating the room itself. Deciding what it would contain, where things were placed, considering all of the logistics such as how to deal with the food supply issue or health related issues, etc.  I felt as if I were in that room with them. She also did a great job with the day-to-day activities that Ma and Jack engaged in. However, the story petered out for me in that second half. Jack seemed to lose his voice and Ma, who I really wanted to care about, became unlikable.

I think I would have liked this book quite a bit more had it been told from Ma’s point of view. It would have been a different book for sure, but I think it would have had the depth that this book lacked.

2010 Indie Lit Awards Lit Fic Finalist

I read this for the 2010 Indie Lit Awards.

Source: Purchased

28 thoughts on “Review: Room”

  1. We have two very different opinions of this book indeed. Although I do understand the very good points you made, the simplicity of the story/writing is what drew me in, along with knowing that the little that we did learn about Ma was from Jack, and what struck me is that at 5, kids really don’t know much about their parents. It seemed believable to me. I would love to sit and discuss this one w/ you!! I appreciate your thoughts and I wish you would’ve enjoyed it more, though. 🙂

    1. I wish I could sit and discuss it with you too! I was willing to suspend my disbelief in order to lose myself in that room, but the 2nd half of the book just seemed so different from the first half. I felt as if the author was trying to make it more realistic, but nothing was fleshed out in that second half, I can see why readers are so taken with it though. The premise is so unique.

  2. When I attended a reading of Room, I must admit that I lost interest in the story. Although I haven’t read the entire book, I understand what you mean, because I wasn’t especially interested in Jack’s voice, either.

    1. There is a ton of stuff to talk about in that second half. I think I would have been willing to overlook the entire 2nd half had Ma been given more of an identity. Heck, just revealing a name would have been enough. She deserved it. In my opinion.

  3. I think the story works because it’s told from Jack’s point of view. We get the innocent “I’ve never seen the outside” version of it. I think Ma’s telling of the story would have been far too depressing!

    1. I get what you’re saying, but how did that device really move the story along? It seemed a little gimmicky to me. I know that many enjoyed hearing it from Jack’s point of view though. I just wish there was a bit more Ma in it. Maybe even just one chapter from her point of view.

  4. First, no two readers read the same book (can’t remember where I saw that but I know it’s true!). I listened to the audiobook which reinforced the POV. Best book of the year? I didn’t think so but I put it on my honorable mention list because I found it unique – not a topic I’d normally be drawn to. I appreciate your review.

  5. I liked ‘Room’ a lot, but I am happy to hear a dissenting opinion. Always good to have a healthy debate about even the most popular of books!

  6. I didn’t write a review for Room because I couldn’t really pinpoint what I didn’t like about the book. As it turns out, your review does it for me! Room started strong, but at the turning point midway through it totally peetered out for me.

  7. Not giving Ma an actual name rang true for me, I guess because as soon as my kids went to school, I was no longer Lisa, I was Laura’s mom or Kelly’s mom. At 5 kids don’t really think about grownups having names, they are so self absorbed. How could she be anything but Ma? She was his everything. I liked this book a lot and couldn’t wait to talk about it upon finishing- I lent it to my mom immediately and we gabbed for an hour when she was done.

  8. I have been on the fence about whether I want to read this at all…and still am. I’m not especially drawn to either the premise or the 5-year-old narrator, and even reviewers who loved the book have noted that there’s a change in the second half. I’m glad you shared your contrarian take on this one!

  9. Ti, I hated ROOM. I just couldn’t help but get annoyed with Jack. I elt that using Jack’s voice to tell this story was gimmicky and not at all useful in providing any kind of true info on what Ma was going through (which is what I wanted to know about). I felt let down with this book. I don’t understand why it was such a huge hit in the literary world. Definitely a book that I recommended people to NOT read.

    1. Although I didn’t like it, I think it’s a good discussion book. The conversations I’ve had today over this book, have been very interesting and thought provoking. It’s interesting that many of the people I’ve spoken to say that they don’t think they’d be able to read the book unless it was from Jack’s POV. That hearing it from him made it “ok” and not too intense to get through. I don’t like stories about rape or abduction in general but there is really no way to make it nice. If that was the intent, to remove some of the nastiness by putting the story in a 5 year-old’s hands, then it does seem a little bit gimmicky. Everything aside, I think most people agree that the second half was much weaker than the first regardless of how much they enjoyed it.

  10. I’ve been on the fence about reading Room as it’s not a subject matter that I’m drawn to read. I am a fan of the author’s writing and this book sounds unique so I will read it. I may listen to it on audiobook. It has had such mixed reviews and it seems like a book that you like or don’t and feelings are strong on both sides.

  11. I like to read reviews of those who didn’t care for this one. I’m still pretty sure that I will try to make time to read it this year, but I’m certainly thinking of what you had to say about the story.

  12. Great review Ti. Very honest. I have been wavering on this book. Now I think I need to read it so I can what you all are talking about!

  13. Your review and this discussion thread was very interesting. I wasn’t sure I would get through the first 50 pages of Room, as I had a hard time with Jack as the narrator, but once I accepted “it was what it was”, I was fine with how the entire book unraveled. It was not. on my top 10 list for 2010 though.

  14. Such a different view from what I thought … I enjoyed reading your thoughts but everything you disliked about it is what I liked about it. For me, reading from Ma’s point of view would have made the story so difficult to read and even more upsetting than it was.

    And yes… Jack’s voice didn’t often stay true to a 5-year-old but I thought it came close enough. I admire the author’s attempt to do the book with his voice.

    Interesting review.

  15. I agree with you. I would have enjoyed the story told in Ma’s voice. I have to say I totally disliked this book.

  16. Your assessment that this lacks the depth it might have if it had not been told from Jack’s POV echoes what I’ve heard from other people. Still it sounds like it’s well worth reading.

  17. I couldn’t agree more with your review! I was enthralled during the first half of the book, and then I slowly lost interest from there, mostly due to the fact that I started to lose my empathy for Ma. The whole premise of the book was just a little to unrealistic for me. But I can understand why it’s a bestseller. There’s really nothing else like it out there, plus, it’s thought-provoking and great for book club discussions.

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