Author: Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition, 2011
ISBN 13: 978-0316098328
Review by Angela Vincent
I have to come straight out with it: “This is the best book I’ve read this year.” In fact, I think it is possibly one of the best books I’ve ever read. There I’ve said it!
This is a book I’ve studiously avoided reading for a long time. I made a very misguided decision early on that it wasn’t something I would want to read. I thought it would be too disturbing, too sad, and overall too difficult a subject matter. How very wrong was I. I’m struggling to write this review. First, because all I want to say in a disturbingly bossy and possibly shouty manner is “READ IT” (repeatedly). Secondly, because I can’t see how my few inadequate words here can possibly do justice to such a deeply moving book.
However, this is a book review so I will do what I can. Room is the story of Jack and his Ma. Jack is born and spends the first 5 years of his life locked in a room with no awareness of the outside world. Consequently “room” becomes Jacks world. Everything in the room takes on a personality as his Ma has created characters out of everything: “meltedy spoon,” “rug,” “plant.” They have a TV and Jack loves Dora the Explorer although he isn’t allowed to watch too much as it turns his brain into “mush.” He has a few toys and 5 books with pictures. His Ma has a tremendous imagination and creativity and turns everything into a game. They sing songs, play games and have “physical education” where they do “track” by running up and down the room. This unique form of home schooling means that Jack has a grasp of language that is probably beyond many 5 year olds.
There comes a crucial point in the story when things in Jack’s world change dramatically. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read the book but suffice to say this turbulent part of the story, full of drama and suspense, is handled with great care. The story is told in Jack’s unique voice–a voice which I felt Elizabeth Donogue pitched perfectly. He is understandably quirky but has just the right amount of cheekiness and on occasion naughtiness that you would expect from a 5 year old. This could so easily be a story of tragedy but it really isn’t. It’s a story of fortitude, the indomitable human spirit, and of bravery and survival. Because this is Jack’s story told in Jack’s voice, it contains warmth and even joy.
Entire commutes flew by as I read this book. I would look up and realize that I had passed through 4-5 stations without any awareness that the train had even stopped. I knew that finishing this book would leave me feeling a little bereft–and it did. I miss Jack. I miss his voice and his perspective on the world. Reading this book is like going on a journey into the world for the first time with a wonderfully inquisitive, wise, and funny 5 year old as your guide. Every day is an adventure packed with wonder and new discoveries.
I read an interview with Elizabeth Donoghue on BBC Radio 4’s Open Book Program about Room. In it, she was asked “how would Jack be doing now?.” She replied that “he would be doing just fine.” I think I’d have to agree.
So, there is nothing more I can say other than if you have never read this book, do so. Preferably now. If you’ve read it, tell anyone else that hasn’t that they should!
About the Author
Born in Dublin, Ireland, in October 1969, I am the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue (the literary critic, Henry James Professor at New York University). I attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one eye-opening year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 I earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin (unfortunately, without learning to actually speak French). I moved to England, and in 1997 received my PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of Cambridge. From the age of 23, I have earned my living as a writer, and have been lucky enough to never have an ‘honest job’ since I was sacked after a single summer month as a chambermaid. After years of commuting between England, Ireland, and Canada, in 1998 I settled in London, Ontario, where I live with Chris Roulston and our son Finn (10) and daughter Una (6). | Author Website | Intriguing Book Website
Text © 2014 Angela Vincent
Re-print © 2014 The Black Lion Journal
Re-printed with permission.
Why do you see this?