By Emma Donoghue
Little Brown & Company
The Short of It:
Room boasts an original premise but falls flat from overly simplistic writing and one-dimensional characters.
The Rest of It:
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.
I read this for the 2010 Indie Lit Awards.