Booker Dozen 2010: Room by Emma Donoghue

Room: A Novel
The backstory: I first heard about Room at Book Expo America, but when I heard it was longlisted for this year's Booker Prize (and now shortlisted), I was excited to have an excuse to read it sooner rather than later. (Update: Room has now been longlisted shortlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize too!)

The basics: Room is the story of Jack, a five-year-old boy who has never left Room. He loves his Ma and he loves his life. He doesn't realize there's a world outside of room and that he and his mother are locked in Room without means of escape. If you're prone to visuals, Picador has a fantastic floor plan of Room.

My thoughts: I'd like to introduce you to my new all-time favorite book. I hope this review makes me you read this marvelous novel, so I won't spend much time on the plot and particulars. I want you to experience them for yourselves as I was so fortunate to do. With that in mind, prepare for some gushing.

Admittedly, the subject matter of this novel sounds a little dreary. When I first heard about Room, I wanted to read it, but I didn't expect to love it. Donoghue made the bold choice to have Jack narrate this entire book, and his perspective on life is absolutely fascinating. I didn't expect to relate to a five-year-old, but I cannot imagine the book being told another way. Despite being told from the world view of a five-year-old who doesn't know there is a world outside of Room, Donoghue infuses knowledge and depth to his mother. The reader takes the observations of Jack and understands his world far differently than he does.

Room grabbed me immediately. It almost feels dystopian, and reminding myself Jack's life is reality for some children was heartbreaking. As the details and layers of Jack's reality unfold, it's fascinating to see life through Jack's eyes. Jack's nature keeps this book from becoming too dark. He has a child's optimism, buoyancy, fascination and genuine happiness. He's a boy who has never been away from his mother, whom he adores.

Donoghue wowed me throughout this novel. I was mesmerized by her characters, dialogue, story, construction and bravery. I desperately wished I could have read it in one sitting. I contemplated calling in sick to work because I had one hundred pages left and could not bear to put it down. (Don't worry, I resisted temptation and made it to work.) Despite being captivated from the novel's first pages by Jack's unique narrative voice, it still got better as it went along. I found no weaknesses. 

Before I finished it, I found myself wondering if this novel could be my new favorite novel. It has. I'm always leering of declaring something my favorite, but Room affected me so deeply in a way I honestly thought a book might not be able to do again. Room is unique, original and amazing. Time will tell if Room truly is my favorite book ever. It's unseating Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife, which managed to maintain the honor for almost two years. I've read many five star books since then, but for me, calling a book my favorite is an incredibly personal thing. (I know no one who has enjoyed American Wife as much as I did). Yes, it must be well-written, but mostly it must make me feel amazed. It must somehow shift my perspective on life and humanity. Being a favorite is very much a product of my reaction to a novel. I can't explain or predict the novels that move me in this way, but I'm always quite surprised. Despite being a voracious reader and lover of books, I realized I never expected to have a new favorite book again. (Tune in this Sunday, August 8 for a post on other past favorite books.)

The verdict: Room is intense, but it's so well written, relatable and humane. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I do recommend, however, that you don't start it until you have time to finish it. It is a one-setting novel. 

Booker thoughts: It's no surprise Room is my current favorite contender for this year's Booker. It's only the second title on the longlist I've read, but I cannot imagine being more passionate about another novel. Naturally, I'm also trying to prepare myself for the possibility of it not making the shortlist (The horror! I truly would be surprised) and not winning (I would be less surprised but still upset.)

Rating: 6 stars (out of 5)*
Length: 336 pages
Publication date: September 13, 2010 (in the U.S.); it's out now in the U.K.
Source: The wonderful folks at Little Brown sent it to me when I asked nicely. 

*My rating system, my rules. Yes, I have gone above five stars for only the second time on my blog. The first, of course, was American Wife. Some may find it silly to rate higher than five stars, but I believe the extra star comes from my personal connection with the novel and this novel truly stands out, even from 5-star novels. 

Other reviews: You don't have to just trust me, Reading Matters read it (and loved it) too. Nicole Barr's review from The Guardian is lovely, but it gives away a fair amount of the plot, so read it at your own risk. This snippet, however, sums up the novel beautifully: "To read this book is to stumble on a completely private world. Every family unit has its own language of codes and in-jokes, and Donoghue captures this exquisitely. Ma has created characters out of all aspects of their room – Wardrobe, Rug, Plant, Meltedy Spoon."

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!


  1. I loved this book too!

    It is interesting to learn that you loved it straight away. I enjoyed it from the beginning, but didn't really love it until about half way through. It is my favourite book of the year so far and I hope lots more people enjoy it as much as we did.

    All your review has done is make me want to read American Wife!

  2. Holy cow, I need to dig this one out of my TBR pile ASAP. Great review!

  3. I loved Room too!!! I hope it wins!! =)

  4. Great review1 I'm looking forward to reading this one.

  5. Fascinating subject for a book! I'll admit when I read the synopsis it sounded a little creepy with the little boy and his mom being locked in his room but I added it to my list anyway since it was longlisted. Now that you've raved about it I can't wait to read it!

  6. People keep saying this is a favorite and I want to read it so badly! I don't think I picked up a copy at BEA and I'm kicking myself for that silly decision now :)

  7. I was floored, too. Donoghue does a fabulous job of portraying Jack's world, and the second part of the book was just so realistically creepy.

  8. I just finished this book yesterday and totally agree. I thought it was excellently done!

  9. WOW...I am anxious to read this book. Next week I hope.

  10. Fantastic review! I adore this book so much and I'm so glad it's getting the recognition it deserves. I almost want to just go ahead and read it again. I miss Jack!

  11. This book is pretty amazing, isn't it? It really wowed me and I'm still thinking about it now.

    I need to track down American Wife now too!


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