Friday, January 14, 2011

ROOM - Emma Donoghue

I have several audiobook reviews that I need to catch up on, so even though it isn't Thursday, I have an audio review to share today.

First Line: "Today I'm five."

ROOM is the story of a five-year-old boy, Jack, and his mother. His mother was kidnapped and held captive in a small structure - 11 x 11 foot - in her captors back yard. The one-room building has no windows save for a skylight in the ceiling. It's been soundproofed, and a security system keeps the door locked by code. Jack was born in this small room and for all five years of his life his world has been the room.

Following an incident where their captor, who Jack refers to as "Old Nick", punishes Jack and his mother by turning off all the power to the room for several days, Jack's mother decides they have to find a way out or soon Old Nick will kill them both.

I listened to this book with a bit of apprehension at first. The concept of the story line seemed disturbing and I wasn't sure if it was subject matter I wanted to use for entertainment. But the raves for this book simply poured in, so I decided I had to at least check it out. ROOM turned out to be nothing like what I was bracing myself for. Instead it was a beautiful tale of discovery, of insight, of growth and relationships, of growing pains and life-changing events. There are underlying disturbing foundations to the story, but as it is told through Jack's eyes and voice, those are not the focus of the book.

Jack comes to life and the reader - or audience - feels five and naive and unaware. The cute and funny things that any young child says are elements of Jack's character and elicit the same kind of heart-warming laughs. Jack's fear of new, of the unknown is something everyone can identify with, and Donoghue uses that identification to bond the reader with Jack, to create not only sympathy but empathy.

Jack's mother is a fascinating character as well. She was kidnapped as a college student, so she never had the chance to fully grow out of the self-centered stage of life. But Jack is her world and she would do anything for him. The constant conflict between those two elements of her character can make for some uncomfortableness because the reader is forced to look at his/herself and say, "what would I do in that same situation?"

Donoghue did an amazing job of taking a hypothetical "what if" situation and looking at every detail, down to the most minute aspects. There were times where I would think, "really? Jack gets this concept but not that concept?" So some of those elements didn't seem like they balanced exactly right, but I think I was drawn to those details because Donoghue examines their lives at such high magnification. Those details were fleeting in the overall wonderfulness of ROOM.

The Hachette Audio version of this book is magnificent. It was read by a cast of narrators: Michal Friedman, Ellen Archer, Robert Petkoff and Suzanne Toren. The entire ensemble is wonderful, but Friedman is brilliantly convincing as five-year-old Jack. His fears and wonderment; confusion and enlightenment shine through in every utterance. Archer voices Jack's mother and does a stunning job of reacting to and responding to Jack. And that's an important element of the novel. Jack's mother experienced life outside the room. She understands concepts Jack is completely ignorant of. Those interactions between mother and son were essential for the audio to pass muster. It overwhelmingly did. A superb performance from all the narrators.

ROOM is available on audio from Hachette Audio (ISBN: 978-1-60788-627-3) or in hardcover from Little, Brown and Co (ISBN: 978-0-31609-833-5).


Ryzmomplus2 January 14, 2011 at 7:11 AM  

I was surprised at the premise of this book, coming from a 5 year old yet once I started I couldn't put it down!

bermudaonion January 14, 2011 at 8:36 AM  

I was wondering if an audio version of this book could be pulled off and it sounds like they did a magnificent job!

murdoc January 16, 2011 at 4:48 PM  

I gotta go pick it up!

shari July 20, 2011 at 11:40 PM  

I was so impressed by Michal Friedman's delivery as Jack on the audio version. I loved the voice and all the inflections. Unlike other people being portrayed, I experienced Jack's character as being completely authentic. Incredible! Hard to believe that some individuals were put off by the voice, as indicated on other sites. Conversely, I found it somewhat disconcerting that the other actors were attempting to portray various other people, while sounding similar in spite of bad accents, etc..

Nadia Santos June 30, 2015 at 2:12 AM  

This novel is the best I've read
this year, deserves multiple rereads, and is now among my favorites. A
brilliant work of literary art that defies its premise.

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