• Isabelle Osborne

Reviewing Emma Donoghue's 'Room'

Room is a heart-wrenching story of a mother and her son who are held captive in a single room in the garden of a vicious predator.


Published in 2010, Donoghue's novel is told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack who, after being born in a 12-foot-square room, has no concept of the world outside and believes only he, his Ma and 'Old Nick' (their captor) exist.


I devoured this novel in less than 72 hours, the gripping story line not letting me put it down.

One of the things I found made the novel successful was how Jack was the one telling the story, as we are given a way into his mind through his narration. Jack's adorable naivety and childish charm that Donoghue conveys within the novel is exquisite and seems to make his character all the more real. Whilst happy in what he believes is a safe haven for himself and his Ma, your heart breaks as you are continuously reminded that he has been denied the opportunities the world can offer him at the hands of a cruel predator who offers no explanation as to why he captured his Ma seven years ago.


Ma's nurturing and educating her son is unbelievably admirable when considering her treatment over the last seven years during her imprisonment, and Jack's intelligence stands as evidence for the motherly love she has allowed to prevail over her trauma. From limiting the time they are allowed to watch TV to maintaining their physicality during 'phys ed', Ma gives Jack a structure that offers him the closest she can to a normal life. Their relationship is precious.

I don't want to give too much away and so my review must find solace in offering only half the story. What I will say, however, is that you feel so connected to Jack and his Ma that you hold such a strong sense of hope for them by the end of the novel that you don't want it to end.

I also watched the movie adaptation of the novel after finishing reading it. I was especially impressed by Jacob Tremblay's depiction of Jack and Brie Larson's portrayal of Ma, however it remains that the book offers a more rich and emotional depiction of the character's lives, as is often the case with film adaptations. However, I expect this can be attributed to how 300+ pages of Donoghue's brilliance must be synthesized into a two-hour film.


Reading the novel during the COVID-19 outbreak, whilst in self-isolation from the world, the novel offered a meta-fictive experience of that of Jack and his Ma, as you begin to comprehend their sense of claustrophobia. Even so, I am in an extremely fortunate position to say that despite Donoghue's excellent writing and vivid depiction of Room, their experience remains incomprehensible, and I hope this is the case for the majority of the readership. Yet, what struck me more so about this novel than anything else is how, although fictional, the novel is not too unlike the experience of many men, women and children who find themselves victim to kidnap in real life. Donoghue herself conceived of the plot after hearing of the Fritzl Case, whereby an Austrian woman claimed she had been held captive for 24 years by her father and given birth to seven children during her captivity; this highlights that whilst we can close the cover of this book and put it back on the shelf, Jack and his Ma's experience is very much a reality for those who may never be found and may remain in silence forever.

It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. Room is a gem of a book that I hope everyone accesses at some moment in their life.

Words are all we have.

 - Samuel Beckett

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World of Words 

By Isabelle Osborne