Room by Emma Donoghue

January 12, 2011 @ 6:05 pm | Filed under:

Have you read it?

Do you want to talk about it?

I read it first on New Year’s Eve, and then again immediately the next day, and I keep returning to sections of it, have found it difficult to shake off. It was strange to find myself completely incapable of committing to any other book for over a week after reading this one.

It’s gotten a lot of buzz, so maybe you know the set-up: it’s the story of five-year-old Jack and his mother, who have been imprisoned in one small room for Jack’s entire life. Even longer, for his brave, broken, amazingly persevering mother.

“We have thousands of things to do every morning, like give Plant a cup of water in Sink for no spilling, then put her back in her saucer on Dresser. Plant used to live on Table but God’s face burned a leaf of her off. She has nine left, they’re the wide of my hand with furriness all over, like Ma says dogs are. But dogs are only TV. I don’t like nine. I find a tiny leaf coming, that counts as ten.”

It’s Jack’s voice that cuts my heart to bits: I don’t think any book I’ve ever read has fostered such a strong visceral, emotional response in me—what I mean is that I kept having to put it down and go scoop up one of my children. The overwhelming tenderness. The ache.

I’m yearning to talk about it but I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, so if you’d like to discuss it in the comments, I’m there.

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18 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. monica says:

    haven’t read and I probably won’t because I know my too sensitive mama self would be quite disturbed. although that small snippet of boy voice is tempting. . .

    and now I’m wondering what it is that you want to talk about? plot twist? characters?

    must resist.

  2. Melissa Wiley says:

    Characters, mainly. The plot is fairly straightforward and mostly satisfying (which may be a spoiler right there because there’s only one satisfying outcome in a scenario like that). What gripped me was the child, and the fragile/strong mother, and others, beautifully and subtly drawn characterizations.

    But yes, quite a trial for a mother’s heart. Jack is five and still nursing at the novel’s opening. He describes it so simply and matter-of-factly as “having some” or “wanting some,” and there are points where for various reasons he can’t have some and oh, the plaintive longing in his voice, it about killed me.

  3. Andrea says:

    I’ve already got a small but growing table-full waiting, and now this. I will have to check it out.

  4. Emily D. says:

    LOVED Room. Loved hugely. I read it when it first came out here and gobbled it up. It is a frequent re-read for me too. The characters are just phenomenally well-drawn, and the was she captured Jack’s voice was perfect. What a great choice of him as narrator. It definitely stays with you.

  5. feebeeglee says:

    I just finished it. Let me let it sit a night. Whew.

  6. Michelle says:


    This book fascinated me. Some of the troubles that Jack had getting acclimated outside the Room were unexpected. It struck me that for him the Room was safe…just shows how staying in a bad place can often be “easier” than moving on. His mom…my heart ached for her. The judgement she had to endure after years of abuse (which doesn’t even cover what happened to her). I read this book a couple of weeks ago, and I agree…I can’t stop thinking about it!

  7. Amy @ Hope Is the Word says:

    Hmmm. . . can’t decide. . . do I want to subject myself to this one (that will surely make me cry buckets) or not? I really hadn’t even considered it before now (the cover art even gets me!), but your review tempts me.

  8. marsha says:

    Hmmmm, not sure I can handle it. (a bit on 5 yr old nursing, ummm I have a 5.5 yr old still asking, though she told me at least a year ago there was no milk LOL) so its not that unusual. I must add, that she doesn’t ask but once a monoth now.

    I absolutely love though that someone captured the interior life of a child in such a loving way.

  9. Melissa Wiley says:

    @Marsha, yes, that’s exactly why I found the nursing part so poignant. It made absolute sense that Ma would continue nursing Jack for so long. It’s his grief when, through a variety of circumstances, he has to stop that tore me. I’ve nursed all of mine to two years old or beyond, and Jack’s responses rang utterly true.

    @Michelle, I know just what you mean! ******SPOILERS****** It comes as such a shock the first time he asks to go back to Room. And then it seems so natural and understandable, but at the same time you can see how it would kill Ma to hear him beg to go back. You know who I thought was wonderful, the best help Jack could possibly have had in Outside? Leo/Steppa. The quiet complexity of his character took my breath away—especially since Donoghue had to convey it entirely through Jack’s observations and reactions. He can’t analyze Leo’s character or behavior at all; he can only respond to it. The part where Jack finally has a fullblown meltdown & Leo picks him up, carries him upstairs: WOW. Amazing scene.

  10. Beth says:

    Oh, I just finished this last night (meant to only read another chapter or two–but stayed up far too late to find out what happened!!!). I agree completely on the voice–so sweet. I do feel like the book started to fall apart, for me, Outside. Where the part in Room felt so fresh and different, Outside wasn’t surprising. I still cared about the characters, but I was aware of myself reading, whereas before I was just in little Jack’s head.

  11. Ami Jones says:

    Just put it on hold – darn patrons who keep checking out books I want!

  12. feebeeglee says:

    In many ways Jack reminded me of my autistic son, Bede, and other autistic children I have met. When we moved to the house we live in now, about a year ago, Bede was very distressed. He spent several days asking to return to our old (small, moldy, cramped) rent house. He reverses pronouns and has minimal speech, so we were subjected to tearful heart wrenching pleas like “You want to go to Bede’s house? Okay, sure! I’ll get you go to Bede’s house. You have your shoes, let’s go! (sob)”

    Jack’s sensory processing issues and longing for the familiar really hit home.

    I was delighted with Leo’s quiet reliability and rapport with Jack.

  13. Heather says:

    it is a book that lingers. spoilers!

    her courage as a mom, the devastation when on the “outside” her motives are questioned.

    how she could mother in way in that awful isolation that was awe inspiring and then see the ways our world prevents that type of mothering

    It is not a book that evokes tears (at least not for me) but touches so many deep fears that it disturbs and fills with dis/ease.

    I had to skip the (big spoiler)

    the escape because that was fraught with such incredible risk and danger.

    the author captures so many amazing nuances in our different responses to tragedy, to life gone horribly awry.

    and then the amazing beauty that the mom was able to create for her child in the midst of devastating evil

    reading it has given me fresh eyes to cherish my little ones and to see the magic that our children can make out of anything, given the opportunity.

  14. feebeeglee says:

    Another thought: I was reminded of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

    (slight spoilers)

    Not because of the autism similarities, but because of the innocence of the narrator. Both boys are suddenly thrust into a wider world, in the physical sense and the relational sense. Both were lied to to protect them from what their parents felt was too much for them to bear, and both ultimately found strength within themselves.

  15. Michelle says:


    Melissa, I loved Steppa. The biological grandfather made me so angry, but the thing is I can understand his trepidation and fear. He made me so sad.

    That’s what was so amazing about this book. When a character did something that infuriated me, I couldn’t get mad. I was able to empathize. This book still has me thinking.

  16. MelanieB says:

    Oh yes, Jack’s voice. I kept thinking as I read about how perfectly she captured that five year old, his innocence, the ways in which he tries to knit together a comprehensive picture of the world with the bits and pieces of information he has available to him.

    But also how the story just wouldn’t work with Ma as narrator or even with a third person narrator. Ma’s voice and experience would just be too raw and a third person narrator would feel voyeuristic, as if I were complicit in her exploitation. But Jack is so sweetly innocent that much of the horror of the story doesn’t come through. Of course it’s there; but it’s all inference the reader makes from Jack’s observations, none of which he understands the implications of. In some ways it does mitigate the terrible circumstances, in other ways it actually amplifies them, the contrast between Jack’s innocence and the evil of old Nick.

    I loved the way Jack personifies so many of the objects in Room. Aside from Ma, they are his only companions and they come alive in his imagination.

    I loved the point that Ma makes about how she’s only done what every mother does. It made me think about how all of us shelter our children from the evils of the world in some way or another. We all want to control their environment and make it as safe as possible while also allowing them freedom to grow into their own persons. Room just provides an extreme example.

  17. MelanieB says:

    *** SPOILERS ***

    I was afraid when I began to see the escape coming that moving the action out of Room and into the greater world outside might ruin the book for me. So much of what I loved about the story seemed to be bound up in the bond between mother and child in that private world they’d constructed. How could the narrative sustain that? How could it not fall apart under the strain and become just another sensational news story. That was where Jack’s voice really became impressive to me. Because it carries the story so beautifully through that terrible escape. And then I loved how transition to the outside which for Ma is escape, for Jack is the beginning of a nightmare existence. I wasn’t at all surprised when he begged to go back to Room. I was anticipating it. It was the only world he’d known, the safe womb in which he’d spent his childhood. To Jack it had never been anything but a warm place where he had his mother all to himself while outside pulls her away from him and forces him to do what for most children is five years worth of gradual detachment instantly.

  18. Lisa says:

    I am eagerly waiting for it. “Eager” not as in “yipee” but I am Mom to two kids adopted after tremendous abuse. I like to see what others write about such situations. I don’t know how many nights I won’t sleep or how many tears I’ll shed or even how fast or slow the reading will go for this one…..