Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Book Review: Room, by Emma Donoghue

by Emma Donoghue
Little, Brown and Co.
321 pages

I know. 

If you're a book blogger, you're skipping this post because you know it will be another superlative-filled, wonderfully glowing review of Room (and you'd be correct).  And if you're one of my friends or relatives who reads the blog with bemusement over the amount of books I read, you're probably rolling your eyes because you've heard me go on and on via Facebook or in person about how amazing this book is. 

This book.  This is the type of book that you want to buy a hundred copies of and give to everyone you know who hasn't read it yet.  It is that good, that powerful, that affecting.  This is a book that - as one of my blog commenters said - completely engulfs you, that you are compelled to read in practically one sitting. (It took me three, but one was spent reading almost 200 pages straight and I vowed not to go to bed until I knew what happened. You who have read Room can probably guess what part of the book that I speak of.)

"But what's it about?" several of my friends have said. 

The first thing you need to understand about Room is that this is so much more than your regular novel, and about so much more than the actual plot.  So much more.

That being said, it is the story of a 5 year boy named Jack and his Ma. From the book jacket:  To five-year old Jack, Room is the world. It's where he was born. It's where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose Jack's imagination - the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells, the imaginary world projected through the TV, the coziness of Wardrobe below Ma's clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night in case Old Nick comes.  

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it's the prison where she has been held since she was nineteen - for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven-by-eleven foot space.  But Jack's curiosity is building alongside her own desperation - and she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer."  

It is original in respect to the writing - for it is the mark of a true talent to sustain the incredibly authentic voice of a five-year-old over the course of a novel, which Emma Donoghue (a mother of two young children herself) does brilliantly.  The pacing is perfect and has you on the edge of your seat.  While Room is indeed very tense in parts, this isn't a gory or graphic novel. (Donoghue could have easily gone down that road, but didn't, and it works just as well.)

As a reader, you don't know where this story is taking place - nor do we ever learn Ma's full name - and those elements add to the absolute straight-from-the-headlines feeling that Room has. (This inspiration was the Fritzl case in Austria, as some other reviews have mentioned. I found myself thinking a lot about Elizabeth Smart as I read this.)  We also know that this takes place in the modern day - there are references to a website with "lots of faces," and emailing friends, and Lady Gaga, and children's shows such as Dora and Barney. There are so many small details that add meaning and depth to the novel - from the time of year that it takes place (springtime, right around Easter weekend, symbolizing death and resurrection).

You find yourself caring about these characters, rooting for them, wondering what exactly happened for Ma and Jack to wind up in this predicament in the first place.  (And when that is revealed, you realize how this could have very well been a nonfiction book, a memoir.)  You find yourself falling in love with Jack, wanting to adopt him, and cheering his mother's fiesty spirit on.   From a literary perspective, everything works in this one. 

But most of all, you read Room in utter and complete awe, for this is a story of maternal love and the lengths that a mother will go to in order to give her child the best life possible, despite the horrific circumstances that they find themselves trapped in.

Speaking of traps, if you're one of the book bloggers who have seen Room praised and reviewed to the high heavens since it made its debut at BEA a year ago and you think you'll bypass this one because of such ... don't.  I thought that, too, when I saw this sitting on the New Books shelf at my library. (Placed there by mistake, I later realized, because there are 149 people waiting for it in my library system.)  I'm so glad I snagged it because this will, without a doubt, be one of my favorite books I've read in 2011 as well as among my favorite books ever.

There is so much more I could say about Room, so very much more. I'm not a member of a book club, but if you are, I think this would be a wonderful choice to read and would prompt some great discussion.  I honestly think this book should be required reading, and that it should be fast-tracked to being one of the classics of our time. 

It is that important, that good, and that powerful of a story.

What Other Bloggers Thought:  (There are a gazillion and ten reviews of Room around the blogosphere, and I am sure I missed half a million of them. If you'd like to leave yours in the comments for me to add to the list, feel free to do so and I will be happy to add it.)

Book Journey
(Book Journey also has an interview with author Emma Donoghue here.)
Book Nook Club
Farm Lane Books
I'm Booking It
Jen's Book Thoughts
Jenn's Bookshelves
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Paperback Reader
Rhapsody in Books
S. Krishna's Books
Savidge Reads
She is Too Fond of Books
Shelf Life
Stuff As Dreams are Made On
The Bluestocking Society
Write Meg!

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Trisha said...

This definitely is one of the best reads for me in the past decade. Such a unique story and perspective.

Anonymous said...

You have written such a great review, says exactly what I wanted to but couldn't quite find the words for. My review is here

K A B L O O E Y said...

Oh boy, this was a doozy. And I'm sure it will be a very intense movie, when that inevitability comes to pass. A unique page-turner. I loved it too and was so, so glad the author told it from the boy's POV so I didn't have to read graphic details. If that had been the book, I wouldn't have been able to keep reading. As written, it was harrowing enough.

Amused said...

I really enjoyed this one as well. I was shocked when I suggested it to my book club and most of them didn't like it. Oh well!

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

ok, ok, ok...I wasn't going to touch this one with a 10 foot pole bc of the subject matter...but you've convinced me that it's worth the investment...added to the wishlist ;)

Elizabeth said...

Yes. I loved this book, too. I think it also spoke to the weird way that we define ourselves -- how words are signifiers for objects but are they really those objects or just those objects because we attach words to them? That sounded mighty inarticulate, but what I wanted to say is that it's a book as much about linguistics and language and how we create our worlds and ourselves as it is about mothering.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

Glad you liked this one, too. I haven't read it yet, sort of just waiting on the hype and whatnot, but given how popular it is I'm sure I won't make it off the library hold list for months, anyway.

nomadreader said...

I'm so glad you liked this one! I adored it too, but I worry some readers who get to it later may know too much and not find it as magical as I did (I was lucky enough to read it before it was published). I'm thinking of reading it again too in conjunction with the Orange Prize to see if it still stands up (it was my favorite read of 2010).

Meg said...

I've thought about this book so often since reading it at a rapid pace in January -- definitely a unique and unforgettable novel! Thanks for linking to my review, too. Loved it!

Angie said...

When I first read this book I thought it was...good, and that's how I reviewed it, as a good book. However, days later I was still thinking about it and talking to other's about it and I realized the story was so powerful it just took me a little longer to digest it. I moved my rating from a 3 to a 4.5 out of 5 stars. Our book club just reviwed it last night and for the most part they rated it very similar to me. It made for a terrific discussion about the bond that Ma & Jack had, Ma's resourcefulness, and the difficulties they faced later in their adjustments. I highly recommend this to all book clubs!