Room – Emma Donoghue

Out of all the books on the Man Booker long list this year ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue was the one that instantly intrigued me. There has already been a lot of ‘buzz’ (rather than hype) around this book here there and everywhere so it was on my radar but I hadn’t expected to see it on that list. So when it arrived the day after the announcement I knew I had to read it instantly, especially as I knew my reading plans were going to be going awry over the next few forthcoming months, more on that tomorrow. So ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue, what did I think?

‘Room’ opens with the fifth birthday of Jack. Slowly but surely as he describes his day we realise we are in the real world but not a real world we would know. For Jack’s world is Room the place in which he was born and has lived for his five year life with his mother and no one else but ‘Old Nick’ who comes by at night and brings them food, creaks Bed and leaves ‘Sundaytreat’ once a week. As we read on we realise Jack’s mother was kidnapped and has been hidden away for years and that ‘Old Nick’, who has a really dark and menacing presence in the book, is their captor – though of course Jack doesn’t.

It seems that Jack’s birthday sees the start of a turning point though in all their lives as his ‘Ma’ decides that he needs to know there is more than Room, there is outside. But how would it feel to realise that there is a huge world outside the one you have always thought is simply it, which hurts Jack’s head when he even tries to think about it? Even bigger, how would they cope if they did actually get outside?

You might think ‘ooh he’s giving it all away’ but honestly I am not, there is so much more to this book. In fact I was worried myself that having seen so much written about ‘Room’ already, which give hints to the plot, before I even started it something would be spoiled for me. I couldn’t have been more wrong because even the best reviews I have seen so far don’t and couldn’t give you a sense of the journey that you go on with the book. As clichéd as I am aware that sounds it’s true.

Emma Donoghue does something incredibly special with ‘Room’. By putting us in the mind of 5 year old Jack she makes us see things from both the innocence of the child narrating and the cynical knowledge the reader has as an adult and rather than play it for a schmaltzy tale of woe, or a calculated tear fest, though the book is emotional in parts. It’s also very funny in parts too and that’s all down to the child eye observance of Jack and his voice. Child narrators can sometimes really grate on me, let alone books that are written in a slightly childish dialect, yet I could have listened to Jack describing his life for pages and pages more. It adds a new dimension to the whole book.

“Spider’s real. I’ve seen her two times. I look for her now but there’s only a web between Table’s legs and her flat. Table balances good, that’s pretty tricky, when I go on one leg I can do it forages but then I always fall over. I don’t tell Ma about Spider. She brushes webs away, she says they’re dirty but they look like extra-thin silver to me.  Ma likes the animals that run around eating each other on the wildlife planet, but not real ones. When Iwas four I was watching ants walking up Stove and she ran and splatted them all so they wouldn’t eat our food. One minute they were alive and the next minute they were dirt. I cried so my eyes nearly melted off. “

Donoghue’s writing is wonderful. I think my favourite line in the whole book was this… “We’re like people in a book, and he won’t let anybody else read it.” In a single line Ma sums everything up and as a reader it really hit me, there’s a lot of emotion and impact in just that one line so imagine what Donoghue can do with a book full of them. I could go on and on about this book but I will stop and simply say ‘read it’. I think this could very quickly become one of my favourite books of the year and I hope regardless of Man Booker winning or not it becomes a huge seller as it’s a book that really deserves a wide audience, it’s the sort of book I think anyone could get something out of.

A book that will: quite possibly leave you a little breathless and remind you what reading is all about and may have you running out to buy it for everyone you know. 10/10

To me this is what a book prize should be about, finding a book with a new voice, something that’s funny, emotional and captivating (I read this in two sittings) and that’s what the best books are isn’t it? Have you read ‘Room’? Had you noticed the ‘buzz’ before the Man Booker Longlist was announced? Has anyone read anything else by Emma Donoghue as I noticed in the front pages that she has another nine books, any one recommend any?

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60 Comments

Filed under Books of 2010, Emma Donoghue, Man Booker, Picador Books, Review

60 responses to “Room – Emma Donoghue

  1. Everyone is raving about this one for sure. I’m glad to see you loved it as well. I hope to start it next week.

  2. gaskella

    I don’t go in from prize hype, but the buzz about this one has been so great that I bought it a couple of days ago. After great reviews from you, Kim and Jackie I must build it into the reading schedule ASAP!

    • I had heard the buzz about this book before the longlist, I just think its inclusion made the buzz all the bigger. Its interesting that I have noticed people, myself included arent sure it will win because its too accesible.

  3. Your review and Harriet’s have grabbed my attention, but something is still making me want to avoid this novel… maybe because I think it’ll be too sad, or that I won’t be able to stop thinking about the real-life equivalents?

  4. I finished this last night (second sitting) and agree that it is a special book and one that is highly original and incomparable.

    I did find Jack’s voice a tiny bit irritating at times (earlier on as opposed to later) but that makes me feel guilty! He isn’t precocious but incredibly endearing.

    I only became aware of the buzz early last month in relation to Booker speculation; I feel miffed with myself that -like Kim- I had a proof copy of it for some time and hadn’t read it! It would have been great to read this before everyone else was reading it too but, hey, the main thing (and the important thing) is that we read it and loved it. Like you I’ll be recommending this to everyone I know and passing it onto everyone I know.

    I LOVED the book quote too.

    I have a copy of Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue but haven’t read it or anything else yet.

    • I am normally on high alert for precociousness in any book with a child narrator or even occasionally any books with children in non stop and I have to say I aodred Jack, no irritation here but I can see what you mean.

      I loved your quote and you loved mine, its a Room love in haha.

      Kissing The Witch is a great title isn’t it!?

  5. It’ll go on the list for “after”! Great review.

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  7. Rave reviews have been descending upon this book from the blogosphere for quite some time now… I’m rather curious.

  8. farmlanebooks

    It is great to see that you loved it too. The buzz for this book has been amazing. It all seemed to start after Book Expo America – which is really early considering that it isn’t published in the US until September. I’m hoping it makes the Booker short list.

  9. I only heard of this since it was longlisted for the Booker – I hope I enjoy it as much as everyone else has – my exoectations are high after reading so many glowing reviews.

    • That could be the only downfall for this book now actually, the fact all the praise makes the expectations very high and its a book that should surprise you with its brilliance.

  10. I read Emma Donoghue’s book Life Mask a few years ago and was really impressed by it, it’s set in England at the end of the 18th century about a love triangle. The characters are based on real people and it’s some of the best historical fiction I’ve ever read. It seemed most like Sarah Waters, although I think she’s the better writer and wasn’t sure why so few people knew about her! I’m really glad she’s getting press now.

    • Oooooh compating her other work to Sarah Waters certainly makes me all the more interested in reading more of her books. I will have to see which, if any, the library has later this week!

  11. It is encouraging to see a pretty unified opinion coming from both you and Jackie. This book is very high on my need to read list, and in fact I just ordered it from our library, just to force me to read it and forego all else!

  12. I keep seeing great reviews of this that have me NEEDING to read it asap! I need to find a copy, and soon!

  13. I hadn’t heard anything about this book except that it was nominated. That is why I’m so glad I read your review of it, because now I not only know what it is about, but that I want to read it ASAP! So glad you posted about it and enjoyed it. This book sounds quite intriguing and powerful – a must read!! Thanks, Simon!

  14. There is so much buzz around this book, but it seems to be deserved: I haven’t seen a single review of someone who didn’t enjoy it. I guess I need to read this soon!

  15. Fantastic review – I really can’t wait to get my hands on this book. And I like how you used the word buzz instead of “hype”. I’m not at all of fan of the dismissive implications of “hype”, and in fact have a post on pet peeves drafted where I ramble about the reasons why 😛

    • Thanks very much Nymeth thats very kind of you. This is a book that is currently being buzzed and hasnt yet, though could, become hyped.

      Looking forward to your pet peeve post lol.

  16. **SPOILERS IN COMMENT, SO DON’T READ UNLESS YOU’VE READ THE BOOK**

    So glad you enjoyed this one, Simon. It’s a terrifically atmospheric book. It’s hard to review, though, without giving anything away, isn’t it? I thought the latter half, after they’ve escaped, was what really made the story. My favourite bit being when Jack stayed with his grandma. I could really see how she struggled with suddenly having a new little person in her life whom she previously knew nothing about.

    • Oh god it was a nightmare to write a review of this it took me ages and ages and quite a few rewrites, I mean I never rush a review this just got more than an hour or so and two rewrites and tweaks.

      I thought the parts after ‘Room’ were equally good to the bits in ‘Room’ and even though it was a book of two halves it worked because of it. Maybe that doesnt make sense. Ha.

  17. I’ve read a few of her earlier books (I love the collection Kissing the Witch and Hood was a particularly touching portrait of grief, I thought) but I’ve lost track of her recent work. Your review definitely re-piques the interest though.

    • Sounds like those two were good though so maybe the Booker has introduced me to a writer I should have been reading sooner and despite the lack of debuts this could be its great achievement for me personally.

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  20. Hi everyone, mike from Picador here. Thanks for the lovely comments, so nice to see a book we all love getting the praise (we think) it deserves!

    Head on over to http://www.picador.com to find out more about Room and take a look at loads of exciting bits and pieces.

    Mike.

  21. Very interesting to see such positive responses to Room here. You guys need to get over to the Man Booker Prize forum, where most people seem to hate it! And I must admit that I tend toward that view myself, though not so strongly. But I’ll say no more until I’ve put together my own review.

    • I can understand people disliking any book for whatever valied reasons but hating it seems a bit strong haha. I think its interesting to see the diverse views so will have to head over there at some point and have a gander at what the people on there are saying.

      Looking forward to your thoughts when they appear John, thanks for popping by.

  22. It’s great to see yet another reader love this book. I’m so glad to see the buzz it’s getting both in the UK and US!

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  25. Though I did not say so on my blog, I really was not that impressed with this novel, and I will be very sorry if it wins the Booker. I was indeed irritated by Jack’s voice, and did not actually think it was particularly stunning in any way, though of course it is thought-provoking. I am glad you liked it, anyway.

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  40. Stephanie

    You have asked of other books by Emma Donogue – I recently read ‘The sealed letter’ , which is based on real people and a true event, happening in Victorian England retold as a work of fiction to help provide the backstory, as no doubt some of this information was suggested at rather than proven. Donoghue has shown a deft hand in putting this story together and has fleshed out the characters well. Even though the events were deemed scandalous in their day and would be seen as tawdry in today’s world, the story feels very real and the 1850s feels convincing as told from a 2000 era perspective. However, some of the thoughts of the individuals would not have been written by an 1850s era author and have the feel of an allknowing author behind them – but this does not detract from the way the story is told. She portrays the story as it ‘breaks’ so to speak and has a compelling cast of characters to work with; two of whom wound their own independent way into history with the facts of this story being but a mark in their profiles rather than the only definition of it. The story stays in your mind after reading it and it has encouraged me to read more of her work. I have a copy of ‘Room’ on the shelf and will extract it someday soon.

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  42. Simon, try her latest ‘Frog Music’. My review here. Very different from ‘Room’ though! SD
    http://wp.me/p2ZHJe-TH

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