Thursday, 16 September 2010


Title: Room

Author: Emma Donoghue

Number of pages: 321

Started: 13 September 2010

Finished: 16 September 2010

Opening words:

Today I'm five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I'm changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. "Was I minus numbers?"
"Hmm?" Ma does a big stretch.
"Up in Heaven. Was I minus one, minus two, minus three—?"
"Nah, the numbers didn't start till you zoomed down."
"Through Skylight. You were all sad till I happened in your tummy."
"You said it." Ma leans out of Bed to switch on Lamp, he makes everything light up whoosh.
I shut my eyes just in time, then open one a crack, then both.
"I cried till I didn't have any tears left," she tells me. "I just lay here counting the seconds."
"How many seconds?" I ask her.
"Millions and millions of them."
"No, but how many exactly?"
"I lost count," says Ma.

Read a longer extract here.

Plot summary:

It’s Jack’s birthday, and he’s excited about turning five.

Jack lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures 11 feet by 11 feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real – only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until the day Ma admits that there's a world outside . . .

Told in Jack's voice, Room is the story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible. Unsentimental and sometimes funny, devastating yet uplifting, Room is a novel like no other.

What I thought:

I am not sure what I made of this book. It is certainly not the type of book I would normally read, but that was part of the appeal of reading the Booker prize shortlist – to challenge my normal reading choices.

This book is told from the perspective of a five year old who has spent his whole life in a 11 by 11 foot room, along with his mother who was kidnapped seven years previously. It took me a while to warm to the writing style. The boy, Jack, refers to inanimate objects as though they are an active part of his life, and because they have that role it slightly changes the construction of a normal sentence. For example:

“Ma leans out of Bed to switch on Lamp, he makes everything light up whoosh.”

However, after I read the first 30 pages or so, I put the book down for a few hours and when I returned to it, I had come to terms with this style.

The other thing that slightly frustrated me about the book was that because it was told by a five year old he didn’t have the insight or the ability to process why others were acting in the way that they did. Why did his mum get upset? Why did his mum not tell him the truth about why they lived their lives in this small confined space? But on reflection, I wonder if that is actually a strength of the book. Because there is no analysis of the characters or by the characters it means that you, the reader, have to do it instead – and that is maybe no bad thing because it makes you think about the novel and what Jack is seeing and understanding about life around him.

The book also made me wonder how accurate portrayal of a five year old Jack was. At times he seemed too intelligent and other times too naïve. But then that opens up the question of how constantly living with an adult, who is the only person you interact with would affect your ability to comprehend the world around you. So, again, it is not clear, and it is for you to decide for yourself.

I think it is a book that is ideal to debate with other people. I talked to someone at work who is also doing this same challenge and read it before me and I went from saying I was a bit ambivalent about the book to us having a lengthy discussion about a whole range of things about the book.

So, it was a readable book (once I got past my concerns about the writing style) and raised lots of dilemmas, but the jury is still out on this one as far as I am concerned. But, that said, I would recommend reading it because I think it is one of those books that is down to the reader to interpret what you take from it.

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