The problem with writing a review of Emma Donoghue’s book Room is that it’s so hard to know where to start. There is so much here, so many great and terrible wonders within these pages that it seems that to start with one would do disservice to the others. Room is a book of such scope and such brilliance that any overview of it would necessarily fall far short of what the work deserves. But because I am writing a review, and since I can’t fit it all in here I’m going to have to start somewhere.
Room is a book about identity. It tells the story of a young boy who is desperately trying to understand his place in the world. But the world as he knows it is far different from our world. His world is Room, a small space inhabited by him and his mother and visited every night by the mysterious Old Nick. In five years of life it is the only thing he has ever known.
Room is a book about love. It tells the story of one woman fighting against the darkness and pain in order to make the world an interesting and joyful place for her son. It is a story of the ultimate human triumph over fear, and it demonstrates that in the darkest places the light of the human soul shines brightest of all.
Room is a book of unparalleled voice. The five-year-old narrator feels real and alive. His words arrange themselves in the strange and wonderful patterns of a mind still learning the complexities of language. It is the voice above all that gives Room it’s strength. It allows the reader to fit himself inside the mind of a child and see the world through different eyes. It gives us a glimpse of a psyche still forming itself, trying to make sense of a world that does not make sense.
Room is a book that makes you want to believe. The characters are fully realized with flaws and foibles that color them with the dusty tones of reality. These are people you’ve met before. The overwrought mother, the precocious child, the frighteningly believable old man holding both of them prisoner. All of them come to life in a way that few fictional characters can dare to grasp at.
Room is a triumph of storytelling. Nothing else I’ve read recently comes close to touching the gut wrenching emotion that Room managed to pull out of me. By the time I got to the end I was nearly in tears.
Room is a book you need to read. But it is not without its flaws. For me the most important problem was that the second half of the book lacked much of the primal punch the first half of the book delivered. In the first half of the book the story is focussed on escaping from Room, while the second half of the book is focussed on our protagonists trying to adjust to normal life after the escape. The central conflict of the first half of the book is visceral and basic, while the conflict of the second half of the book finds itself in far more cerebral territory. Nevertheless, it’s easy to see why Donoghue wanted us to see the aftermath of escape. In spite of being less tangible, the problems faced by mother and son in the second half of the book require the same strength of will to face as their imprisonment. The continuing conflict within serves as a potent reminder that every happy ending is really the beginning of another story.
In the end there simply aren’t enough good things I can say about this book, so I will summarize with this: read Room. It will shock you. It will amaze you. It will change you.