Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

December 13, 2010


Room” by Emma Donoghue (Book Website | Author Website) is a fictional, award winning book with a disturbing premise. The book tells of Ma, who has been kidnapped and locked in a room for seven years by “Old Nick”. Ma and Old Nick have a son, Jack who is also lives in the room without being able to leave.

Book Review: Room by Emma DonoghueMy rating for Room – 3
Buy it here, surly you have enough room for “Room”*
More Books by Emma Donoghue*


Room” by Emma Donoghue has a very unique perspective, the whole story is told from the view point of five year old Jack. Jack is very smart and bright, he lives happily in his own little world, unaware that there better or different things than the rigid daily routine he and Ma have devised. Ms. Donoghue does an excellent job of narrating in the voice of a five-year-old whose only friends are his Ma, inanimate objects and characters on TV.

The book was inspired by Elisabeth Fritzl’s confinement to a basement in Austria by her monstrous father who sired several children with her. However, in the book Ma and Old Nick are not related, but its disturbing enough without incest being involved.

“Room” touches on many themes what is home (the room is Jack’s home even after they leave), relative safety (Jack has never been outside), society, happiness, too many choices and more. Ma and Jack are too unpredictable for the reader to make cliches observations about such themes, which are both intimate and global.

The first half of the book is gripping and well told. The claustrophobic, creepy and eerie feeling of a captive twenty-something woman who is trying to make a warm, fun and loving place for her beloved son comes across in a straightforward way. Even though Jack is extremely bright, almost too bright some might say, I still felt sucked into the story.

However, the second half is where the book lost me. The improbable escape, the way Ma and Jack were treated by society, professionals and their families seem too much of a stretch. After following the Elisabeth Fritzel case with some interest this part simply did not resonate with me.

The only thing which I found believable in the second half is the way the media is portrayed. A bunch of blood suckers, if-it-bleeds-it-dies type of people who represent America’s fascination with voyeurism.
And damned be the consequences.

Room” is still a good book and a quick read. The unique voice in which the book is told is refreshing and well worth the time to read.


The book is divided into 5 sections:

Presents: where we meet Jack and his ma who are captives in a 12×12 room of a man Jack calls “Old Nick” because he only comes at night. Jack has never known the outside world (outer-space) except a few shows on TV. When “Old Nick” comes Jack has to go into the wardrobe and counts the creaks of the bed-springs if he is still awake.

Unlying: Jack discovers the harsh truth about his world.

Dying: Jack and Ma escape. How? that you’ll have to read for yourself.

After: Trying to adjust to life after Room is tough, both for Ma who becomes instantly famous and Jack who has never even been in the sun.

Living: Ma and Jack start their new life, but can they say goodbye to their old one.

A quick read and an award winner – Buy it now*
More Books by Emma Donoghue*

Zohar — Man of la Book
Dis­claimer: I borrowed this book.
*Ama­zon links point to an affil­i­ate account, the money is usually spent on book

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Room by Emma Donoghue


  • LifetimeReaderDecember 13, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Ever since seeing on Nonsuch that you were planning to review this book today, I’ve been eagerly awaiting your post. The combination of the two reviews has definitely knocked this book down my TBR pile by a bit. I think I’ll spend my precious pre-project reading time on a few other books. Thanks.

  • SamDecember 13, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    I’ve got this book sitting on my shelf waiting to be read. Yours is actually the first non-glowing review I’ve seen of it, although your points seem fair and balanced. It seems like the book may have been over-hyped a little bit.

    • zoharDecember 13, 2010 at 4:16 pm

      Hey Sam, my taste and the “best of” lists are sometimes conflicting 🙂

  • Greg ZDecember 13, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    I actually thought the second half of the novel was more gripping, more realistic and all-around more entertaining than the first half. The first half didn’t have nearly as much drama – either they’ll escape or they won’t. But the possibilities are limitless regarding what would happen after we know they did. And I couldn’t wait to see how they’d continue their re-integration into society – with some pretty sizable bumps in the road along the way…

    • zoharDecember 13, 2010 at 4:09 pm

      Hey Greg, I’ve talked to several people who felt the same way you did, for me the second half, as well as the time-line oft he second half, didn’t seem realistic as the first half was.

  • SuzanneDecember 14, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Yeah, it was improbable, but the escape scene was my favorite part of the book. I think any means of escape would have been improbable in their situation.

    I agree that the second half was weaker relative to the first half but overall this was one of my favorite books this year.

    • zoharDecember 14, 2010 at 2:37 pm

      Right, I could, and did, also overlook the escape scenario. It is a good book but I’ve read better this year. The book does tug at the emotional core of a person.

  • RyanDecember 14, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    I’ve read several postive reviews and just listened to a interview with the author on The Diane Rehm show so I’m already hooked on wanting to read this one. I thank you for the warning on the second half though. At least I know to exprect something to stretch the imagination.

  • ElizabethJanuary 12, 2011 at 8:02 am

    So sad that I didn’t read your review before spending money to get a personal copy.

    I read a lot of positive reviews and fell into the same old trap of reading an over-hyped book. Still wondering how it made into the Booker Prize long list.

  • AlleyFebruary 26, 2011 at 10:39 am

    I like seeing a different point of view on the book. Most of the reviews have been so glowing it is nice to see a different perspective. I did really enjoy the book and I liked the second half best. I thought it was the more complicated part of the book, which I found more interesting. It didn’t have the eerie quality that the first half had but I felt like it was more unpredictable.

  • CourtneyMay 20, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    I felt similar to you about the second half of the novel. I felt the way that Ma and Jack were handled improbably. For example a boy who can barely go outside and has never been away from his Mother in his life…or around other people. Is all the sudden going to a mall with relatively complete strangers who are family but unknown to him? And the professionals in charge of his care would allow this? There were a few instances like this that I found not so easy to believe. The first half definitely had my attention and was more psychologically gripping. Thanks for a great review.

  • SpangleMay 27, 2011 at 11:36 am

    To a certain extent I agree with what has been said about this novel.Particularly the second half of the book, I couldn’t understand why some of the characters outside were so impatient with Jack. Although in some respects, this may be accurate because Jack has been through such a different ordeal to everyone else, that it would be impossible for ‘outsiders’ to understand him and because of that, they don’t show him as much compassion as you would expect. Overall I thought this was a brilliant book, with complex, but superb writing. Great review.

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