Room by Emma Donoghue (It’s what the grown-ups are reading)

by |August 13, 2010

People have already started reading and talking about Emma Donoghue’s brilliant offering, Room. I have been sitting on this review for months and I am delighted to see it has made the long list for the Man Booker Prize.

Jack and Ma live in Room. He sleeps in Wardrobe. Occasionally he makes a tower out of Table and Chair and peaks up at Outside through a skylight. Jack and Ma have no one else, except for the nightly visits from Old Nick.

Room is narrated through the voice of the innocent five year old Jack, whose obsession with counting is the only clue to his anxiety. In fact, in his day to day life, Jack is perfectly happy with his mother, in their room, which turns out to be a locked-down sound-proofed garden shed into which his mother has been incarcerated for seven years. Ma attends to his needs, they have a routine which involves minimalist cooking and washing, exercise, endless re-reading of the handful of books, making toys from toilet paper rolls and food wrappers, playing word games. Jack is happy.

Ma of course is not. And while this valiant woman protects her son from the predations of her aggressor, she comes up with an escape plan that depends on her boy having to deal with Outside on his own.

Room is one of those books that demands attention. Once you start reading it, you just have to finish it. It is intense, claustrophobic and utterly compelling. Emma Donoghue’s special talent is to be able to speak authentically through the voice of the five year old Jack whose skewed wide-eyed innocence provides a filter for the awfulness that is Ma’s life. In fact, we have to imagine what Ma has actually gone through because Jack never witnesses it. While Donoghue gives us an insight into those awful cases of men locking up women for years, and the effects of such incarceration once the barriers have finally come down, she also gives us a wonderful new take on the meaning of being a good mother.

Room will appeal to both readers of mass market and more literary fiction, men and women and is tailor made for reading groups. Click here to buy…

What the publisher says:

The story of a mother, her son, a locked room and the outside world

Jack is five and, like any little boy, excited at the prospect of presents and cake. He’s looking forward to telling his friends it’s his birthday, too. But although Jack is a normal child in many ways – loving, funny, bright, full of energy and questions – his upbringing is far from ordinary: Jack’s entire life has been spent in a single room that measures just 12 feet by 12 feet; as far as he’s concerned, Room is the entire world.

He shares this world with his mother, with Plant, and tiny Mouse (though Ma isn’t a fan and throws a book at Mouse when she sees him). There’s TV too, of course – and the cartoon characters he thinks of as his friends – but Jack knows that nothing else he sees on the screen is real. Old Nick, on the other hand, is all too real, but only visits at night – like a bat – when Jack is meant to be asleep and hidden safely in Wardrobe. And only Old Nick has the code to Door, which is otherwise locked…

Told in Jack’s voice, Room is the story of a mother’s love for her son, and of a young boy’s innocence. Unsentimental yet affecting, devastating yet uplifting, it promises to be the most talked about novel of 2010.

When do you know you’ve written something good? When these guys say so!

Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours:ROOM is that rarest of entities, an entirely original work of art. I mean it as the highest possible praise when I tell you that I can’t compare it to any other book. Suffice to say that it’s potent, darkly beautiful, and revelatory.”

Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveller’s Wife: ‘”Emma Donoghue’s writing is superb alchemy, changing innocence into horror and horror into tenderness. ROOM is a book to read in one sitting. When it’s over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lingers for days.’

Anita Shreve, author of The Pilot’s Wife: ‘I loved ROOM. Such incredible imagination, and dazzling use of language. And with all this, an entirely credible, endearing little boy. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before.’

John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas:ROOM is one of the most profoundly affecting books I’ve read in a long time. Jack moved me greatly. His voice, his story, his innocence, his love for Ma combine to create something very unusual and, I think, something very important. I read the book over two days, desperate to know how their story would end . . . Room deserves to reach the widest possible audience.’

Emma Donoghue in her own words: Born in Dublin, Ireland, in October 1969, I am the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue (the literary critic, Henry James Professor at New York University). I attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one eye-opening year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 I earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin (unfortunately, without learning to actually speak French). I moved to England, and in 1997 received my PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of Cambridge. From the age of 23, I have earned my living as a writer, and have been lucky enough to never have an ‘honest job’ since I was sacked after a month as a chambermaid. After years of commuting between England, Ireland, and Canada, in 1998 I settled in London, Ontario, where I live with my lover Chris Roulston and our son Finn and daughter Una.

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