Book Review: Room

Title/Author:  Room by Emma Donoghue

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Family and Relationships

Published:  September 13th, 2010 by Little, Brown and Company

Hardcover, 321 pages

How I Got This Book:  Checked it out from my library system

Why I Picked It Up?:  It has been on my TBR list for a while, but as it was a monthly read for January, I was excited to finally have an excuse to read it!

Book Jacket Blurb:  “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 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 curiousity is building alongside her own desperation–and she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer.

Told in the pignant and funny voice of Jack, Room is a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child.  It is a shocking, exhilarating, and reveting novel–but always deeply human and always moving.  Room is a place you will never forget.”

My Review of the Work:

Disclaimer:  Due to the nature of this review, there will be spoilers.  So if you are planning on reading this novel and don’t want to know anything about it, then I advise you not to read this review.  In this case, know that I would recommend this novel to anyone who has a social science background or who likes to read realistic fiction. 

As I read this as part of a book group discussion, I have read many people’s opinions of this novel, and I feel like so many people approach this novel thinking it will be an exciting escape novel (which it is).  But it is so much more than just the escape, which is why the escape happens halfway through the book.  This novel delves into the psychology, sociology, and family studies social sciences behind captivity and confinement and explores the effects of such a confined life through the eyes of a five year old, who knows no different.

I have done a little bit of research on Emma Donoghue and her thoughts about why and how she decided to write this book.  She based this novel on the case of the Fritzl Family.  Donoghue was really interested in Felix Fritzl, who was five years old at the time of his rescue out of the basement prison in which he was born in.  Donoghue based her character of Jack on the experiences that Felix must have gone through, from not knowing anything other than their prison to all of a sudden being exposed to the world outside of their “room.”

And so we have Jack, a just-turned five-year-old boy who’s whole world is an 11ft by 11ft room (as illustrated here).  Through his voice (his impressively written five-year-old voice, complete with over-applied grammar rules and young child stream of consciousness, which is done absolutely brilliantly), Jack tells us the story of his life in Room, about his Ma, and about Old Nick.  For a five-year-old who has only known Room, an explanation of the world outside is a huge concept to grasp, and Jack struggles with his understanding of the world his Ma once knew.  And once he sees this huge world for himself, he struggles to adjust to the “lack of specific schedule” and the freedom that comes from living outside of Room.

This novel really explores the psychological effects of long-term confinement, both the confinement itself and the adjustment after being released.  So if you are looking for a novel with an active plot, then this will not peak your interest, because a lot of this novel is not action-packed, but rather explores the everyday life kinds of things.  However, if you understand and appreciate the social sciences, then you will be intrigued by this novel and be able to fully appreciate everything this novel is about.  I say this again because I have an educational background in the social sciences of Family Studies, and many people who don’t have this kind of background (like those in my reading group) really didn’t quite grasp the importance of each and every “mundane” detail that was included in this novel.  This is a novel that is geared for an audience who likes to explore elements of the social sciences.

The first half of this novel deals with the life of confinement, and the more you read and find out, the more you understand the differences between Ma and Jack.  For Jack, Room is his safety net–it is all he knows, and all he wants to know, because he is comfortable living with Ma.  But for Ma, since she knows what she is missing on the outside world, she sees Room as the prison in which she is being held.  However, she also understands the delicate situation she is in with her son because she understands how Jack sees Room.  This is why she slowly but surely tries to explain to Jack about her life before Room, about the outside world, so that they can devise and execute a plan of escape.

The second half of this novel deals with the psycological and sociological adjustments to life after escaping from their prison.  For Jack, the world is HUGE and way beyond the parameters his mind has formed about life.  He has to adjust physically to his surroundings, like being exposed to germs, or the sun’s rays, and learning how to judge distance, and coordination.  Seemingly simple tasks, like walking down stairs, is a challenge for someone who has never seen stairs before.  For Ma, it is a dream come true, yet the world has changed so much.  Because of this, she too has a hard time re-adjusting, which in my opinion really captures the reality of a situation like this.  It would not be so easy for a woman who has spent 7 years in sexual captivity to just re-enter the world again, especially after finding out that your parents have divorced, that your mother has remarried, and that your brother has married and has a child of his own.  Then there are the relational issues that formed during confinement, like attachment issues and severe separation anxiety.  And the second half of this novel delves into all of these issues and changes and realistically deals with adjusting to each one.

This novel is really brilliant because 1.  it captures the POV from a 5 year old, complete with language usage and thought process and 2.  it portrays the realities of a situation like the one in this novel.  Though some do not like this novel, I personally really enjoyed all of the aspects that this novel offers.  It intrigued the family studies part of me, and I really enjoyed reading this novel.  But I do understand that it is not for everyone, and that is okay too.

My Bookshelf Rating:

A Fourth Shelf Book!

This book really captures the realities of confinement situations and the adjustments after being rescued.  And this novel portrays elements of family relationships with realistic expectations.  Above all, this novel is about the love a mother has for her child, and the love that child has for his mother, and the power of a mother-child bond like theirs.  This book is recommended for those who really like the social sciences.


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