Room, Emma Donoghue (a guest review by Mumsy)

If you’ve reviewed Room lately, I’ve probably commented on your blog to say, You have reviewed this book well, but it sounds way too upsetting and I am never, ever, ever, ever going to read it myself. That is still (probably) true, so my mother has kindly agreed to guest-review it for me. Here is Mumsy!

(The review on the cover of my copy of Room says: “Potent, darkly beautiful, revelatory.” I have no idea what that even means.)

To Ma, Room is a twelve-by-twelve nightmare prison, the scene of repeated rapes and beatings since she was kidnapped at nineteen. To five-year-old Jack, though, Room is the cozy nest that Ma has created for him, where he cherishes Plant, eats dinner with Table, and often sleeps in Wardrobe – especially when Old Nick comes in at night. Room is a two-person universe – Jack suspects that even Old Nick is not properly real, though he is more real than the make-believe world Jack sees on TV. But Ma has secrets to reveal, and when she tells Jack that the world he sees on TV actually exists, events begin spinning out of control.

When I first saw a review of Room, I was a bit skeptical; I wondered how a five-year-old narrator could achieve either believability or emotional resonance. How foolish to wonder. Emma Donoghue brings Jack flawlessly to life; his quirky combination of high intelligence and childish innocence makes him the perfect narrator for a story that is, by turns, unbearably tragic and unbearably poignant. Jack notices tiny details, a trait that seems quite believable in a bright child whose world is extraordinarily small. His word-for-word reporting of Ma’s conversations with Nick, blunted by his five-year-old concreteness, lays bare the horror of their lives in a way that an adult narration could not possibly match. Donoghue just nails the inner life of a child. I loved the way Jack personifies so many of the objects around him:

There’s shoes that do on with scratchy stuff that sticks called Velcro. I like putting them open and shut like rrrrrppp rrrrpppp. It’s hard to walk though, they feel heavy like they’ll trip me up. I prefer to wear them when I’m on the bed, I wave my feet in the air and the shoes fight each other and make friends again.

Oh, Jack. I used to do that too.

So, beautifully drawn narrator, emotional nuance that will make you twist in your chair, rocket-fueled action, and (I know it’s a cliche) unforgettable characters. I read this in (almost) one sitting – it would have been one, except my husband, bleary-eyed, begged me to turn out the light because he had to get up at 5 am.  And, you know, if there’s one thing Room will remind you of, it is that authentic love sometimes demands sacrifice. I was glad mine was only to hold the last twenty pages til the morning…and to lie awake for hours thinking about Ma and Jack.

  • Mumsy, you should do more guest reviews! Also, I thought I was the only person whose feet had wars.

    Jenny, I’m also sort of scared to read this, even though everyone says it’s wonderful.

    • Mumsy

      Aww, Memory, you are so nice. I should say that Room is not at all graphic; I promise you will not be flinching at horrible rape scenes. Don’t be scared! It’s really terrific, and I say that as the second wimpiest reader on the planet.

  • anna

    I read?

  • *applause*

    Well done, Mumsy. My mom would laugh her ass off if I asked her to write something for my blog.

  • What a lovely review! I join all the wimps in the corner who are too scared to read this book. I fear it will tear me into little sobbing shreds. But I’m enjoying reading other people’s thoughts on it!

  • What a terrific review! I felt much the same way as you did about this book, and couldn’t pull myself away from it. Although I had a little trouble with Jack’s voice in the beginning, I grew to love it, and him. I am so glad you loved it too!

  • Agree with your great review! Thanks so much! I had trouble like zibilee with Jack’s voice at first; I was groaning that the narration was going to get old and obnoxious real fast. But then the story hooked me and it became a truly remarkable read. No one should be afraid to read it! It is not dark, and the love between the son and mom is beautifully written.

  • I hope to read this one day, but probably not for awhile. I’ve just seen it in so many places that I’m trying to wait until my expectations have tempered a bit…

  • Amy

    I haven’t picked this one up yet because it looked a little too violent and a little too sad. Glad to hear that’s not the case. I’ll have to see if I can find a copy. Great review Mumsy!

  • This is a really great review! I like your point about how a child narrator makes the adult conversations even more terrible. Sounds like a tough read, but a good one too.

  • Your mum writes so well. She’s built up such an atmosphere with this review.

    This book has been nominated for a Booker as well, so I definitely do want to read it. I am just not sure that I am prepared to getting so disturbed.

    I find it very difficult to read stories of abuse (especially when children are involved). From this review, I gather this is what the book deals with?

    • Mumsy

      Y’all are so kind. I really think “what the book’s about” is less about abuse and sexual cruelty than about the power of love to shelter innocence and to save our lives. Truly, it is not graphic, and it is equal parts bright and dark. Jack is so endearing! The parts about Ma and Jack re-encountering the world are completely fascinating.

  • I am of the same thought as you – I don’t know if it’s one I’ll ever read. I’ve heard so many good things though that I’m half-tempted.

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