Book Review: Room

Spoiler alert: back in February, I watched the film first. I was gripped, stunned and enthralled; the simple, eloquent story of a mother trapped by her kidnapper in a room measuring eleven by eleven feet, raising her bright, perceptive son Jack to believe that Room was the extent of the universe. And, as everyone knows, books are immensely better than films, so I was very excited to plunge into Room.

Image credit: Room, 2016

Despite the fact that, during moments particularly wrought with tension, I was crying by the pool in Crete, I found Room to be a rewarding, beautiful book.  It deals with shocking, harrowing subject matter and treats it with sensitivity: neither sentimental nor exploitative, it is precisely the way you imagine humans to react when faced with such trauma. Emma O’Donoghue’s imaginative power and storytelling ability alike are dazzling, and she creates a marvellously concise and complete world through the lens of five year old Jack. Each subtle element of Room appears to be meticulously planned and considered: things that would never occur to me when penning such a narrative are deftly rendered by O’Donoghue.

Furthermore, the difficulty of writing as a child cannot be underestimated and the author pulls it off with aplomb: Jack’s voice feels truthful and sincere, and never wavers in its authenticity, even when the novel takes dizzying turns and suddenly lurches into a terrifying thriller. Much has been made of the maternal love that lies at the root of the novel and O’Donoghue’s decision for Ma (who is kept effectively nameless) to keep breastfeeding long beyond the time generally seen as societally appropriate. The latter I see as a nonentity and another example of the nuances that characterise the novel; but the former is, I believe, the reason why Room has generated such a powerful emotional response. Maternal love is displayed in all its complexity: Ma struggles through depression, annoyance and difficult decisions that are often only alluded to through inconsequential comments, but ultimately the true, joyous love for her son prevails.

Room ends much as it has continued: optimistically hopeful, but tinged with a lingering darkness that the reader desperately yearns for the protagonists to overcome. I’ve tried to avoid any spoilers – read the book and I defy you not to cry.  Remember to watch the film too; Brie Larsen and Jacob Tremblay are both excellent!


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