Room by Emma Donoghue

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It’s where he was born, where he eats and sleeps, and where he plays for hours every day with his beloved Ma. To Ma, Room is an 11-by-11 square-foot prison where she has been confined and sexually abused for the last seven years.

Emma Donoghue’s ninth novel, Room, introduces us to Jack and Ma in a strangely uplifting story of survival, hope, and love. Completely told from the viewpoint of Jack, we learn that Ma was abducted when she was 19 years old by a man they call “Old Nick.” After kidnapping her, he threw her into a windowless, soundproof shed in his backyard and locked the door. Two years into her captivity, and after trying every possible way of escaping, she gave birth to Jack.  

If you glance through Room quickly, you might mistake it for a wannabe crime novel copied from today’s headlines. In actuality, Room focuses little on the crimes committed by “Old Nick.” Instead, it intricately examines the lives of Jack and Ma – how Ma protects Jack, and what they do to mentally and physically survive each day. Donoghue herself describes the story as being about, “the essence of confinement and captivity.”

Halfway through the book, Ma and Jack escape Room. This feels like the climatic point of the novel and also a dividing point. The beginning of the story reads more like a fractured fairy tale because of its coinciding realistic and surreal feeling. The second half of Room is more pragmatic as Ma and Jack face frustrations trying to adjust to the intrusion, expectations and opinions of the outside world.

Beyond being an intriguing and hard-to-put-down read, Room poses many questions about parenting and society. Were Ma and Jack better off without the influence and judgment of society? How is the mother/child relationship affected when the mother and child never separate? Will Ma and Jack ever really be considered “normal” by society after what they endured? One thing about Room is certain. You come to respect Ma for her choices and dedication to Jack’s well being. You also fall in love with Jack because of his infectious innocence, pure kindness and fragile vulnerability.

Room has been listed as one of the five best fiction works of 2010 by the New York Times. It also won an ALEX award from the American Library Association for being an adult book with special appeal to readers in the 12-18 age bracket.

Donoghue is herself the youngest of eight children and was born in Dublin, Ireland. She often writes historical novels, but with Room she wanted to explore a new direction. In a recent interview Donoghue was asked what question she wanted people to ask most after reading Room? Donoghue replied, “Is parenthood a gift or a burden?”

If you have read Room yourself, what is your opinion of the novel? Did you enjoy reading the novel from Jack’s point of view? How do you think society will judge Ma and Jack after their ordeal?

Leave your comments and opinions about Room so fellow readers can learn what you think about this novel too.

About the Author

Amy Morris

Amy Morris is a librarian technical assistant at the Westport Branch. She earned a B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from Avila University. Besides reading and writing, Amy enjoys traveling, art, being creative, and spending time with her family.