Author: Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
First Publication: 2010
Major Characters: Jack Tenpenny, Ma, Old Nick
Setting Place: An unknown American state
Theme: Isolation, Growing Up, Parenting, Voyeurism and the Media
Narrator: First Person
Book Summary: Room by Emma Donoghue
To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world….
Told in the inventive, funny, and poignant voice of Jack, Room by Emma Donoghue is a celebration of resilience—and a powerful story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible.
To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.
Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.
Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue
Room by Emma Donoghue opens with Jack announcing that he’s 5 years old today. We learn that Jack lives in a small room with his mom, and that he’s never been outside of the room. They have a TV, but he doesn’t think anything on it is real – the only thing that’s real is what’s in the room. Sometimes an angry man comes and gets in the bed with his mom; during these times Jack hides in a wardrobe.
“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.”
The story is told from Jack’s point of view, and details of why they are there are slowly revealed: His mother had been abducted off the street years earlier by the angry man, nicknamed Old Nick, and she has been held in the room since then. To survive, she frequently had to have sleep with Old Nick, and Jack was born 5 years ago. She created a daily routine to keep her son occupied and tried to make the situation into a game for him.
The action picks up fairly quickly when his mom plans an escape attempt. I won’t reveal what happens next, but the story abruptly shifts in tone after halfway through the book. I thought the first part of Room by Emma Donoghue had the strongest writing, but the second part was interesting in its consequences for both Jack and his mom.
“Everybody’s damaged by something.”
The secondary characters, seemed to barely reach the surface as though they were only in my peripheral vision. They are understanding, and as helpful as possible, but often couldn’t grasp the nightmare Jack and Ma have survived, while others can’t cope at all, which could have made for some very interesting characterizations if they had been fleshed out more.
This story is certainly haunting, and the characters did hang around in my head for some time. The story of Room by Emma Donoghue is moving and touching in the end, and I can’t say how much I appreciate the author’s portrait of the mother and child bond, which is unshakable, and is what stands out for me more than anything else.
“The world is always changing brightness and hotness and soundness, I never know how it’s going to be the next minute.”
A note on the audiobook: the audiobook (produced by Hachette) is read by a five year old. A FIVE YEAR OLD. It put everything into such perspective. There was no escaping the narrator, no escaping the truth that you had a boy who had grown from conception to five-years-old in one room. His voice was strong and innocent and perceptive. I really liked Jack, and actually being able to hear him was very powerful. It was also a full-cast audio (which means every character has a different voice) which made the listening experience really brilliant.