four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
49-Nov-Dec-2010
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0

A-RoomIn her novel Slammerkin (2001), Irish author Emma Donoghue follows an ambitious 18th-century prostitute living in England. Now, in a startling departure from her earlier work, Donoghue uses a child's voice to relay the wonder, and horror, of a life lived in captivity. Room was short-listed for the Booker Prize.

The Story: Five-year-old Jack, happy and well adjusted, lives alone with his devoted mother. Their daily routine includes a structured curriculum of math, reading, music, PE, and sometimes even a little television. Jack, who entertains himself with various imaginary games, is perfectly content--except at night, when Old Nick visits his mother and Jack must hide in the closet. Just 19 when she was abducted on the way to her college library, Jack's mother has been held captive for seven years in a soundproof garden shed, an 11-by-11-foot room that comprises Jack's entire universe. Gradually, Jack comes to realize that the only life he has ever known is really quite extraordinary.
Little, Brown. 321 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 9780316098335

Boston Globe 4.5 of 5 Stars
"An emotionally draining read, yet at the same time impossible to put down, it has all the makings of a modern classic. ... It is, hands down, one of the best books of the year." Liz Raftery

Dallas Morning News 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The utter genius of Room comes from Donoghue's careful construction of the child's narrative. ... For anyone who's thought, ‘How do you survive that?' Donoghue provides mesmerizing insight, in a voice at once winsome and blistering." Joy Tipping

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[O]ne of the most affecting and subtly profound novels of the year. ... Not too cute, not too weirdly precocious, not a fey mouthpiece for the author's profundities, Jack expresses a poignant mixture of wisdom, love and naivete that will make you ache to save him." Ron Charles

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"Though the story's chilling circumstances reflect the horrors endured by tabloid-famous abductees, Donoghue avoids all sensationalism. Instead, she gracefully distills what it means to be a mother--and what it's like for a child whose entire world measures just 11 x 11." Lisa Schwarzbaum

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Jack's voice is one of the pure triumphs of the novel: in him, [Donoghue] has invented a child narrator who is one of the most engaging in years--his voice so pervasive I could hear him chatting away during the day when I wasn't reading the book. ... [Ma is] a sympathetic figure, and her choices, in her situation, are believable, even understandable, but by shaming the questioners, Donoghue also cuts off a reader who may have similar wonderings." Aimee Bender

Salon.com 4 of 5 Stars
"Impressive. ... Room meditates on the nature and mixed blessings of love, innocence and motherhood itself." Laura Miller

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Absent are any of the emotional subtleties, insights or genuine trauma that would actually happen in such an ordeal. But read as a love story between mother and son, the book is a triumph, a celebration of the lengths we go to for our loved ones, and the comfort in the skewed world that relationships create." Karla Starr

Critical Summary

Critics were enthralled by Donoghue's latest novel, inspired by the Josef Fritz case, in which an Austrian man locked his daughter in the basement for 24 years. Describing it as gripping, claustrophobic, and "fantastically evocative" (Washington Post), they also predicted that Room, recently short-listed for the Booker Prize, would appeal to a much larger audience than the author's previous fiction. On the other hand, several reviewers noted that Jack's understated anxiety in the book's second half didn't quite ring true, but they also acknowledged that the critique was "based on the very high standards set by the beauty of the book" (New York Times Book Review). As a thriller of sorts and a love story, Donoghue's novel is a stunning achievement. Or, as one critic put it, "Such a story, such a mother" (Entertainment Weekly).