Review: Room by Emma Donoghue (with Book Club and Audiobook notes)

08 Mar

RoomMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very intense, compelling book. I didn’t always enjoy it, but I did appreciate it.

From the Room website:

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 beneath 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’s been held since she was nineteen-for seven long 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 indefinitely….

Interestingly, the strengths of Room were often what made it uncomfortable reading.

First was Jack as narrator. He’s an incredibly imaginative and precocious 5 year old, but he is 5. He’s written well enough for this to be an issue at times. I’ll also note that there were times when he thought things that I didn’t think fit his age, even as advanced in some ways as he was, then I realized that he’s an incredibly unreliable narrator– I shouldn’t believe everything he says about himself.

In the end, Jack’s voice was far more of a plus than a minus for me.  His view was something truly unique in my experience.  The story would not have been as compelling if not seen through his eyes.

Which leads to another strength of the book that was sometimes an issue for me. Yes, the book was compelling, often uncomfortably so. The subject matter isn’t pleasant, although Jack doesn’t see it that way. Nonetheless, I sometimes just had to stop reading and take a break.    The room would start to feel claustrophobic, the meaning of the creaks that Jack was hearing (and counting) would become clear, and it would just be too much for me.

Again that a book could have that much of an effect on me this can be seen more as praise than condemnation. I will say that reading did get easier as I worked through the book.

One last thing that could be a strength or weakness in Room: Jack’s mother was a very well developed, interesting character, in spite of us only seeing her through her child’s eyes.  In the book, she did one thing– one very important thing– that I just couldn’t understand, viven. (I suspect those that have read the book know exactly what I mean, any more information would be a significant spoiler.) Everything else, all of her decisions about how to raise Jack, how to handle the situations that arose, it all made sense to me (even when they were different from what I would have done).

But when she does something that doesn’t make sense to me make her less human as a character, or more? It certainly gave me something to think about.

In the end, that’s the best part of Room— the questions that are asked (and answered) about these two people and the world they live in– the world inside and outside of Room.

Book Club Notes

My book club had a fantastic discussion of this book– enough so that we didn’t have much time for our usual chat and catching up with each others lives.  It’s a good problem to have.

We talked a lot about Ma’s decision that I talked about in my review, and I’m much more comfortable with it now (that is, comfortable that she could have made it.  It’s still a very uncomfortable choice). We talked a lot about her, the position she was in, and how she was able to cope as well as she did.

We talked about what the future would hold for Jack and Ma, about how realistic each character was, and the choices they made. We talked about other, equally realistic directions the book could have taken, and were happy this was the book we had.

We talked about what made the book work, at which point each of us thought about giving up reading it, and that we were all glad we didn’t.

I highly recommend Room for reading group discussion.

Audiobook Notes

Narrator: There are four narrators for Room, one of which carries most of the story, reading as Jack.  I don’t know whether it was Michal Friedman, Ellen Archer, Robert Petkoff, Suzanne Toren.  Michal Friedman was listed first, so I’m guessing she was Jack.  I admit, I was worried that the high pitched, very slightly whiny voice (very reminiscent of a 5 year old)  was going to get on my nerves, but after about 30 minutes it was no longer an issue.  Other than that, all four did a fantastic job.

Production: Excellent.  The decision to have “Jack” narrate the book, switching to the other voices only for direct quotes from other characters, really kept the feeling of the story coming from inside Jack’s head, but made it clear when there was real input from the world outside of him.

Print or Audio:  I think the audio adds to the experience IF you can cope with Jack’s voice.  If you aren’t sure, I’d say give it some time and be prepared to switch if needed.

FTC disclosure: I picked up a copy of Room from the publisher at BEA last May.  I decided I wanted to listen to the audio, so I passed that copy along to a book club member.


Posted by on March 8, 2011 in Book Club, books, M, reviews


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13 responses to “Review: Room by Emma Donoghue (with Book Club and Audiobook notes)

  1. Sniffly Kitty

    March 8, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    I’ve been contemplating reading this book as one of my adult contemporary books this year. I did expect it to be heavy and I’m glad it lives up to that expectation although I’m a bit worried about the amount of darkness.

  2. Sue Jackson

    March 8, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Excellent, thorough review, Laura. I really loved Room, for many of the reasons you mention. I felt that having such a horrible story narrated from such an innocent point of view was unique and effective. I think that made it easier to read, despite the horrific events occurring.


  3. Brandi

    March 8, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    This book broke my heart and made me cheer at the same time, which is a good combination, I think! Your review states my feelings on it pretty clearly, as well.

  4. Rebecca Rasmussen

    March 9, 2011 at 8:48 am

    I have been waiting to read this because of the subject matter– even though I have heard amazing things about this book, I don’t know if I am in the mood to be disturbed or not. However, I do love the prospects of this child’s imagination 🙂

  5. RobynBradley

    March 9, 2011 at 10:40 am

    It took me a few pages to get comfortable with Jack’s voice, but once I did — wow. Also, I think the last line of this book is one of the best (and most apt) last lines I’ve read in recent memory. (I get shivers when I think of it.)

  6. Ms. Dawn

    March 9, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    I loved this book. As much as I think I might enjoy hearing the story on audio…not so sure I could deal with whiiiiiiiine!!! Great review!!

  7. pk reeves

    March 13, 2011 at 11:43 am

    I’ll have to tackle this book one day despite my misgivings on the topic of the mother’s tragic happening. Great review and thanks for the heads for not giving up.

  8. Julie @ Knitting and Sundries

    March 15, 2011 at 9:24 am

    I know what you’re talking about with his mother’s nonsensical action … maybe knowing that Jack would be taken care of … you’re absolutely spot-on about Jack’s voice being so essential to this story – I think that is what made this book stand above a lot of others.

  9. Sue Jackson

    April 4, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Good review. Laura. I absolutely loved this book – could not put it down. I would have loved to have the chance to discuss it with my book group – so much to talk about!

    Thanks for the in-depth review.


  10. Ben

    April 18, 2011 at 5:41 am

    I have the same experience. Even though, it was an amazing book. I had to stop and take a break. Maybe because I was irritated to some of Jack’s narration.

  11. Ben

    April 18, 2011 at 5:42 am

    And also for anyone who want to listen an excerpt of the audibook. I have it in my review.

  12. Italia

    April 18, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    This novel is far different from any of Donoghue’s other work, at least the ones I have read. If you’re a fan of Donoghue’s historical fiction or lesbian fiction, this novel will be a surprise.


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