Room : Emma Donoghue

RoomRoom by Emma Donoghue

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve ummed and ahhed about reviewing this for what is a blog focused on children’s literature, and yet, I think the language and the accessibility of the text will (and has) leads to a definite young adult readership. And thus: a review, albeit with some codas.

Room by Emma Donoghue is stunning but most definitely a book of two halves, if not three … halves. It is a book of thirds, then, let’s say that, and the first third is stunning. Narrated by five year old Jack who lives in Room with his Ma. Everything in Room is given an identity, he lives with Lamp and Rug and Egg Snake. Room is his life. It is all he knows.

It is not all his mother knows. After Jack turns five, she tells him the truth. She was kidnapped and held hostage here by the man they both know as Old Nick. Old Nick visits at night and brings them food and the occasional Sunday Treat if they ask very, very nicely. And he also rapes Ma whilst Jack sleeps in the cupboard.

It is when Ma learns that Old Nick has been made redundant that a frantic, desperate need to escape seizes her. She knows what happens to houses when the money runs out and she also knows what will happen to the secret Old Nick has spent years keeping.

Jack’s voice in this book is beautiful, elegant and uncanny. There’s also an interesting level to the story that he’s giving us and the story that everyone else sees in these two. He’s beguiling, so much that I was startled to see what Jack and his Ma look like to others and learn the truth, in a way, behind Jack’s innocence.

My recommendation for this book come primarily from the strength it provides for discussion. Donoghue’s loose text around Jack is perfect and perhaps the best evocation of a child’s voice that I’ve read for a long time.

The codas come in the fact that this deals with some severe themes. If planning to use this / recommend this to individuals, I suggest as ever to read it yourself beforehand and trust your critical judgement. One thing I have noted being mentioned in other reviews is the breastfeeding aspect of Jack still being breastfed at his age. There are thematic aspects to this of course, perhaps most obviously the implications of control and closeness and power that this grants Ma in her most powerless of situations but if this is an issue for you, again, read the book beforehand.

Room is a beautiful, awful book. I devoured it in one sitting and that bears testament to the poetics Donoghue imbues the worst of situations with. At its heart, I think that Room is maybe about being who we are and holding onto that, even during the darkness, and it delivers spectacularly. And the final part, with its echo of Goodbye Moon, made me howl.

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2 thoughts on “Room : Emma Donoghue

  1. I loved ‘Room’ and particularly for the way it portrayed the mother/child relationship and reading while becoming a mother myself.

    Re: the breastfeeding aspect, I appreciated the way that it was implicit (but _perhaps_ for discussing later wish had been made more explicit) that there was no reason for Ma to stop breast-feeding (she had nowhere else to be, she was always with Jack) and two very good reasons to continue; 1) the contraceptive benefit – Ma was being repeatedly raped but had no subsequent pregnancies and 2) to counter malnutrition, as it is made clear Old Nick would not increase the amount of food he had budgeted to provide, there isn’t enough, and their meals are very small so Jack is very small.

    1. Thank you for that. I really appreciate your thoughts and do agree – the rationale for her breastfeeding is very much there even if it’s rather more implicit than explicit at points. Thanks for your comment!

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