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Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

2nd February, 2016

Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

Room is the story of a mother and child confined to a locked garden shed. The novel deals with the psychological implications on the mind of a child born and raised in captivity, as a result of which he  cannot comprehend the idea of an outside world and a mother’s struggle to escape from their abductor.


This is a book I read years ago. But perhaps a review of the book is necessary along with the movie’s release. I glanced through the book recently to see whether the movie depicts the harsh realities in the book. And I do think it is a brilliant adaptation, so feel free to take the easy way out by watching it. Or rather, read the book too, because of the detailed narration through the eyes of a five year old. This review may contain spoilers.

“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.”

Jack and his mother live in a room which has all the bare necessities to stay alive. Jack’s world consists of his mother, himself, the inanimate objects such as Chair, Table, Rug etc in the room and Old Nick who visits them and brings food. The world is innocent and bright in the eyes of Jack, having fun playing, reading, exercising with his mom and watching TV in Room. Through his innocence we are presented the terrible situation in Room. When Jack innocently counts how many times the bed springs creak when Old Nick visits them, our stomachs churn at the prospect of a helpless woman getting raped very close to her child. Through simple dialogues, eavesdropping and a child’s thoughts, Donoghue prises open the horrifying happenings in the Room.

Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue’s choice of Jack, a five year old boy as the narrator is perhaps the strongest point of her work. The limited dimension of a garden shed, where Jack and his mother live (or are forcefully kept hidden) makes the writing in Room a brave attempt. Emma has successfully navigated through both these limitations, of lack of maturity of the narrator and physical size of the environment, to deliver a stunning story.

“In the world I notice persons are nearly always stressed and have no time…I don’t know how persons with jobs do the jobs and all the living as well…I guess the time gets spread very thin like butter all over the world, the roads and houses and playgrounds and stores, so there’s only a little smear of time on each place, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit.”

The novel is complex in the fact that though the mother loathes Room, Jack being born into it and having no contact with any other living person, loves it and does not feel trapped. Her frustration at making Jack agree to an escape is beautifully captured. Even more poignantly captured is the dilemma the mother faces on escaping when her son, unaccustomed to interactions with other people yearns to go back to the Room and wants to regain her undivided attention. Room is heart breaking and very disturbing in every way possible. Perhaps its effects are enhanced because of the narration from the eyes of a five year old.

Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

Room is the story of survival with the message never to lose hope. It is the story of an escape – from the past, the present and the grief that accompanies it. It is a mother’s brave attempt to let her child (who cannot comprehend ‘Outside’) to help her escape. The story does not end with the escape, but continues with how a woman who has been locked up for years in a shed and bore a child (two, one dead) on being raped by her abductor comes to terms with the tragedies she has encountered and struggles to move forward in life.  And last, but not the least, it is the story of how Jack is groomed to lead a normal social life on the Outside than in his beloved Room.

Title : Room
Author : Emma Donoghue
Publisher : Picador
Published : 2010
Language : English
Pages : 416
Rating : 4/5

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About the Author

Emma Donoghue is an Irish-Canadian playwright, literary historian, novelist, and screenwriter. Her most famous work is Room which was shortlisted for Orange Prize and the Booker prize in 2010. She has written many short story collections such as Kissing the Witch and The Woman who Gave Birth to Rabbits. Her most recent novel is Frog Music that came out in 2014 and a collection of plays in 2015.

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This Post Has 39 Comments
    1. It definitely is disturbing. And that fact that it is based on a real life incident makes it more horrific. I guess now everyone knows the whole story. When I read it first, I had no idea what was going to hit me, so it was very intense. I felt that the movie is less disturbing. But you never know, perhaps it was because I knew what to expect from it.

  1. I read this last year, and I thought the movie adaptation was pretty good (probably because the screenplay was also written by Donoghue). I loved the second half of the book and really enjoyed seeing Jack learn about Outside. Thank you for sharing your thoughts – as usual, I agree with you!

    PS – I put Twelfth Night on my Kindle! Are you excited to read it?

    1. Yeah, even I felt the adaptation was good. However the book was more frightening, maybe because I read it first. And yes, Twelfth night is sitting on my stack of books. Perhaps I will start by this month mid. I have no idea how it will be, reading a complete Shakespearen play for the first time.

      1. Yes, I agree that the book is much scarier! I was nervous to see the movie, but it was much more serene than I expected.

        From what I remember, the play should be a pretty funny and quick read. I haven’t read it since middle school, so it’ll be nice to revisit it. I’ll let you know when I’ve started it. Maybe I should live tweet it, but first, I will have to get a twitter account…

  2. Spot on review! I reread Room just before the movie was released to theaters to see how they’d compare too. I too thought the movie did a good job at keeping to the book (for the most part) & I enjoyed reading it just as much as I did the first time.

  3. I haven’t read the book, and I’m not sure I will (I have issues reading anything realistic). Especially about something as messed up as this. I still want to see the movie though, it looks really good. Lovely review and pictures!

  4. I haven’t read this one yet, but I sincerely want to! I have heard such brilliant things about this book and how wonderful it is. My mother has read it and we do have it in the house. I know that there is a movie out about it as well, which usually testifies to how good it is as well. I am glad you could appreciate the novel.

  5. Wonderful review, as always, Resh Susan! I only skimmed your review since it said it contained some spoilers but I can’t wait to read this someday! I’ve heard so much about it and premise sounds absolutely intriguing. And love the photo with you glass dolphin. ^.^

  6. I read this book about 3 years ago — it was heartbreaking, but a wonderful reading experience. The movie was excellent as well. Brie Larson did such a great job.

    I wish the perspective and scope of the novel would have opened up further after the escape, because I wanted to see the world through Ma’s point of view. But I understand that without Jack’s perspective framing the story, it would be an entirely different book.

  7. I saw this movie in March and I loved it so much. It brought tears to my eyes. I know movie adaptations don’t always do justice to the novels but I really enjoyed this movie. It’s powerful. Brie Larson deserved that Oscar.

  8. The book being narrated by a five-year old is really it’s strongest point. I was very hooked to the book right from the first few pages. I also remember feeling very scared and hopeful for Jack and his mum. I guess we can say this book is also a story of survival. How Jack’s mother spent so many years in captivity and dd her best for Jack as well. Great review 🙂

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