'ROOM' by Emma Donoghue - Review: Jack & Ma live in one room; how do they survive & what happens when Jack escapes?

ROOM

By Katrina Afonso (Writers' Trust of Canada) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Katrina Afonso (Writers' Trust of Canada) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

A Few Facts

‘Room’ was written in 2010. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2010, it won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize as well as being the 2011 winner of the TV Book Club.

November 2015 saw the film of ‘Room’ released. The book is partially based on the real experience of five-year-old Felix in the Fritzl case.


Background

The back cover announces,

‘Jack is five. He lives in a single, locked room with his Ma.’

Inside the front cover we have a little more detail:

‘It’s Jack’s birthday, and he’s excited about turning five. He lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures 11 feet by 11 feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real - only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until the day Ma admits that there’s a world outside…’


Ma

Ma is 26 and has lived in Room for seven years. She does all she can for her son Jack, providing him with physical and mental exercises and making sure he has a healthy diet and that he understands hygiene. She’s resourceful, brave and fiercely protective of Jack throughout their ordeal and beyond. Having to do everything herself, make decisions, organise and remain as positive as possible, she finds it hard to readjust to the world outside when the time comes, in itself a dangerous venture.


Jack

His version of life is cleverly portrayed, how he’s learnt about things from his mother and from TV but has no idea of life as it should be. When he finally sees the outside world, Jack becomes protective of his mother and, though intensely vulnerable and terrified, he bravely makes decisions, leading to her release from Room.

We realise as we cover the first few pages that this child has named objects in the room as though they were people; they are his friends too and are part of the only world he knows.

Jack and his mother fill their time with activities and games:

‘For Phys Ed Ma chooses Islands, that’s I stand on Bed and Ma puts the pillows and Rocker and chairs and Rug all folded up and Table and Trash in surprising places. I have to visit every island not twice. Rocker’s the trickiest, she’s always trying to catapult me down. Ma swims around being the Loch Ness Monster trying to eat my feet.’


Josef Fritzl

The 'original' Old Nick
The 'original' Old Nick

Another extract

These few sentences are an example of Jack’s perception and view on his new world after they escape:

‘In the world I notice persons are nearly always stressed and have no time..... In Room me and Ma had time for everything. I guess the time gets spread very thin like butter over all the world, the roads and houses and playgrounds and stores, so there’s only a little smear to time on each place, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit.’

It’s endearing, yes, but shows us a Jack who is intelligent, observant and imaginative.

Old Nick, who imprisons them, is feared by both and is finally tricked into taking Jack out of Room, having been persuaded by Ma that Jack is dangerously ill. It’s then up to Jack to lead the authorities to his mother and set her free, a difficult task fraught with danger.


The Playground

Swinging bench
Swinging bench | Source
Swings
Swings | Source

Jack's view of the world

Donoghue skilfully portrays Jack’s view of the world outside, a view formed by scant knowledge and therefore not as we would expect. He is a credible five year old, though a little odd due to his circumstances. The tale slides from funny to scary to literal whilst showing intelligent insight into the lives of others; a refreshing look at aspects of life we take for granted.

Jack's observation of relationships between parents and children is a stark contrast to his own relationship with his mother:

‘Also everywhere I’m looking at kids, adults mostly don’t seem to like them, not even the parents do. They call the kids gorgeous and so cute, they make the kids do the thing all over again so they can take a photo, but they don’t want to actually play with them, they’d rather drink coffee talking to other adults. Sometimes there’s a small kid crying and the Ma of it does’t even hear.’

His formerly restricted environment leads him to assume that a particular object will look the same wherever it is reproduced:

‘Driving home I see the playground but it’s all wrong, the swings are on the opposite side. “Oh, Jack, that’s a different one,” says Grandma. “There’s playgrounds in every town.” Lots of the world seems to be a repeat.’


Mother-Son relationship

Jack stays with his grandparents whilst his mother is undergoing tests and some treatment in hospital. He is frightened and bewildered without her:

‘“Ma, can you come get me tonight?”

“Not quite yet.”

“Why not?”

“They’re still fiddling with my dosage, trying to figure out what I need.”

Me, she needs me. Can’t she figure that out?’


Grandparents

A Grandma & Granddad I loved to visit
A Grandma & Granddad I loved to visit | Source

Grandma, Granddad & Psychiatrists

Grandma tries hard and gets lots right but some wrong! Her life having been abruptly turned upside down, after thinking her daughter had chosen to disappear, she shows sympathy and courage.

Granddad, who had moved to Australia, has a hard time adjusting to what’s happened; Jack calls him Steppa. Despite his difficulties with the situation, he shows great insight and understanding, he communicates on Jack’s level and is on his side. There is much humour and gentleness there.

Psychiatrists pay Ma and Jack much attention. It’s totally new territory for them and they make mistakes but Ma tries to put them right. She has a hard time keeping Jack away from the media but tries to introduce him to the unnerving city little by little.

Finally, Jack revisits Room to try to put that part of his life behind him. He has much to face in the future.


Style of Writing

In the clarity of the writing, we find sadness, humour, confusion, bemusement, anger and determination. Both main characters have to adjust to a wide open world full of noise, invaded by others, crammed with threatening objects and situations. At the same time they find people who are trying to help but often don’t understand; that comes with mistakes and patience on all sides.

The story gives us a sense of what it would be like to experience such a harrowing situation. I found it uplifting in that a mother managed to look after her son so well. I found it sad, suspenseful, funny and wondrous.

It is well-crafted in a refreshingly individual style, with defined characters with whom we can identify as they display elements of good and evil. It is poignant and eye-opening. There is resilience and love in abundance. It makes us stop to think about our own lives in contrast, whilst obtaining some insight into that which could happen to any one of us.


An Overpowering World Outside

Massive Buildings and Unknown People
Massive Buildings and Unknown People | Source

Themes

This book deals with several subjects: the imprisonment of women by predators, the rôle of a mother, the importance of a child’s upbringing and how humans can adjust to a huge change of circumstance. It brings up the issues of freedom, relationships and others’ understanding and treatment of those who undergo such experiences. It forces us to understand what a disturbing place the world can be.

Donoghue treats all of these topics with compassion and a wonderful insight into what it could be like to endure another’s oppression and the subsequent results.

I did find the beginning a little hard-going, not due to the writing but because of the subject matter. However, I was so intrigued that I kept going and was glad that I did; I assure you it's worth overcoming the feelings of horror that one person could do such a thing to others. I think the reader is supposed to experience the feeling of claustrophobia that Ma and Jack have to go through.

Do take any opportunity to read this novel. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.


Notes on the Author

Emma Donoghue is Irish-Canadian and was born in Dublin in 1969. An award-winning writer, she now lives in Canada with her family.

‘Room’ is her seventh novel. She says that it ‘was inspired by… having kids; the locked room is a metaphor for the claustrophobic, tender bond of parenthood. She borrowed ‘observations, jokes, kid grammar and whole dialogues’ from her son Finn, who was five while she was writing it.

Room was also inspired by... ‘ancient folk motifs of walled-up virgins who give birth (e.g. Rapunzel), often to heroes (e.g. Danaë and Perseus) and by the Fritzl family’s escape from their dungeon in Austria.


Emma Donoghue

By Katrina Afonso (Writers' Trust of Canada) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Katrina Afonso (Writers' Trust of Canada) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Other titles by Emma Donoghue

Stir Fry (1994)

Hood (1995)

Slammerkin (2000)

Life Mask (2004)

Landing (2007)

The Sealed Letter (2008)

Room (2010)

Frog Music (2014)

She has also written Short Stories, Drama for stage and radio, Screenplays, Literary history and edited other works.


Sources

‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue, a novel published in English by Little, Brown and Company, Sep 2010, ISBN 978-0-316-09833-5, Cover artist - Cassia Beck (photography)

www.emmadonoghue.com

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Room_(novel)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emma_Donoghue#Novels


Reading Novels

Would you like to read this novel?

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Film Versions of Books

Have you seen the film 'Room'?

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More by this Author


Comments 26 comments

annart profile image

annart 9 months ago from SW England Author

Hi Glenis! Thanks for visiting; good to see you.

I too prefer the 'feel good factor' reads but I didn't find this particularly disturbing or depressing - on the contrary, the upbeat attitude of the characters was inspiring. The subject is awful but this tale is about survival, hope and readjustment, as well as about other people's attitudes.

I hope you give it a go but I understand your reluctance.

Hope the weekend's going well and I wish you a happy week!

ANn


Glenis Rix profile image

Glenis Rix 9 months ago from UK

You write great hubs Ann. But I am reluctant to read this book, or see the film - though my enthusiasm for the cinema verges on the fanatical. Nowadays I find that I veer towards subject matter with a feel good factor (perhaps it's an age thing).


annart profile image

annart 10 months ago from SW England Author

Frank: Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad I piqued your curiosity about this book; let me know what you think, if you get round to reading it.

I appreciate the visit, as always.

Ann


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 10 months ago from Shelton

your well written review has me wanting to peek into this book... maybe I will enjoy it.. thank you for sharing annart :) bless you


annart profile image

annart 10 months ago from SW England Author

Thanks, Mike. I try to add a few extra photos to back up or to contrast the themes and always add info regarding the author, if I can. Not always easy to make it tempting without giving away too much; this had a few drafts before it was published!

Your support is always much appreciated.

Ann


annart profile image

annart 10 months ago from SW England Author

Thank you, Dora. I hope you get to read it; it's worth it and brings up some interesting concepts.

Good to see you today.

Ann


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 10 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Hello Ann. That is quite a book review. What a terrifying concept. You made the book sound like a must red. You put a great deal of effort into your presentation. Well done.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 10 months ago from The Caribbean

Haven't seen the movie or read the book, but I would like to. Thanks for this appealing review. It's a great help that you record your thoughts as you began the book, but continued; now I know that it is worth enduring the negative feelings for the better ones in store. Good review!


annart profile image

annart 10 months ago from SW England Author

You're welcome, Alicia. Thanks for reading and I hope you read the story. Despite the dark subject it is superbly written and doesn't depress too much.

Ann


annart profile image

annart 10 months ago from SW England Author

Thanks, Ruby. I hope you do read it and I'd be interested to see what you think of it. Glad I piqued your curiosity!

Ann


annart profile image

annart 10 months ago from SW England Author

Thanks, Flourish. You're welcome; let me know what you think of it, please. Hope you enjoy it (despite the heavy subject, the writing has a light touch).

Ann


annart profile image

annart 10 months ago from SW England Author

Thank you, Susie Jane. Do let me know what you think, if you read it.

Ann


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

This sounds like an intriguing story. I've never heard of it before. Thank you for the review and for introducing me to the writer.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 10 months ago from Southern Illinois

I absolutely want to read the book, and I would love to see the film. I can't imagine surviving a life in one room. Her love for her son must have been so intense that nothing could stop her desire for freedom. Great book review Ann.


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 10 months ago from USA

I plan to read this based on your review. I always appreciate good books. Thanks for the recommendation.


Susie Jane profile image

Susie Jane 10 months ago from London

This review has me intrigued. I want to read the book now.


annart profile image

annart 10 months ago from SW England Author

MizBejabbers: I can understand that, in fact I did find it a bit hard going to start with but I was so intrigued that I kept going and I'm glad I did. Perhaps I should say that in the review - in fact, I'll add that as it's obviously not just me!

Thanks for reading this and for your kind comments.

Ann


annart profile image

annart 10 months ago from SW England Author

Thanks, bill, that's very kind. Our respect is mutual.

I approached the book with apprehension as it was not my choice but another book club member's. I was pleasantly surprised. It opened up a completely different view of life and the world and made me appreciate my upbringing and my life as it is. That's why book club is so good - that, and a good evening's discussion about all sorts of things!

Hope you enjoy it if you do get round to reading it.

Hope you had a great weekend; ours is just coming to an end and it's a busy week ahead - the grandchildren are on half-term!!

Ann:)


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 10 months ago

Ann, I couldn't take your poll because there was no "I tried to read it but I couldn't." A friend of mine lent me the book as she sometimes does. I got no more than 40 pages into it, but it was just too intense. The feelings that I had to put into reading the book were more than I could handle. I was overwhelmed. Maybe if I had skipped to the part where they escaped, I would have been able to read it. It is a very powerful book, and I couldn't read it impersonally. You've done a great review. My hat's off to you.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 10 months ago from Olympia, WA

Ann, thanks for the review. I normally don't steer too far from my mystery genre, but I'll give this a try since you think so highly of it. Yes, I respect you that much. :)

Happy Sunday, my friend.

bill


annart profile image

annart 10 months ago from SW England Author

Yes, Jackie, it is a great story. I'll amend the poll for you - should've thought of that one!

Thanks for the comment; much appreciated.

Ann


annart profile image

annart 10 months ago from SW England Author

manatita: Thank you for your kind comment.

I am writing all sorts of things, including some possibilities for novels and/or memoirs; I've been writing since I was about 8!

I've never met Emma Donoghue but find her writing eminently readable.

Ann


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 10 months ago from The Beautiful South

Voted in first poll but no place in second one with my answer being "No I have not seen the film but I would love to!" Sounds like a great story.


manatita44 profile image

manatita44 10 months ago from london

You write so well, my Sweet, and some subject matters you seem to excel in. This is obviously one of them. I know, like most people, of this sad tale. Still, it is so warm and vibrant in your review. Amazing!

I think it is because you have such a sweet and natural flow! Doris Dancy is like this too, although she is too busy with her books to be here now.

Are you writing books? You should. Yes, yes ...I remember, all these other chores ....

"My Supreme, my Supreme, my Supreme ....do give me forty eight hours a day .....-Sri Chinmoy. A serious poem, but I'm joking.

I like your review. Do you know or have you met her? She'd be proud of you. Much Love, Ann.


annart profile image

annart 10 months ago from SW England Author

Thanks, Eric, for your kind comment. I understand that; it was a book I wouldn't normally have chosen but I belong to a book club and it was our set book a few months back. It's a good way to read books out of one's usual preference. This one made me think without being too heavy.

Ann


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 10 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Your writing is always stellar. I have a bit of trouble with the subject matter here as this is not my genre of any preference.

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