By Kathleen Archambeau
â€śOften they (friends) imagine theyâ€™re in my book and they are not.â€ť
Irish Writer Short-Listed for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction
Emma Donoghue, 23, was fired from the only job -- summer chambermaid â€“ that she ever held other than writer. Now 42, Donoghue is enjoying unprecedented success with her international bestseller, Room, and her forthcoming full-length play, The Talk of the Town, slated to debut at Dublinâ€™s Samuel Beckett Theatre on October 1st 2012.
Donoghueâ€™s first novel, Stir Fry, presaged her talent. In her second novel, Hood, published in 1996 and re-released in 2011, Donoghue plumbed the depths of grief held in the container of one week. Since death casts a long shadow, all readers can relate to the bereavement spilled over in this â€ścuppaâ€™ teaâ€ť novel.
Thereâ€™s something for everyone in Donoghueâ€™s fiction, both historical and contemporary. For a light read, Landing tells the story of two women in love who travel across seas and cultures to meet. If you fancy 18th Century literature, youâ€™ll enjoy the story of scandal in The Sealed Letter and a murder mystery in Slammerkin, featuring a prostitute protagonist mad for clothes. And in Life Mask, Donoghue explores a world sheâ€™s not privy to as a â€śDublin girl from peasant stockâ€ť telling the story of the elite in 1790s London.
Of the Man Booker Prize honor, Emma Donoghue said she was able to â€śstride proudly to the bakeryâ€¦If I hadnâ€™t been on the short list, I would have had to stay home this week, because I couldnâ€™t stand all the little nods of sympathy.â€ť (The Globe and Mail, 9/7/10)
What has kept Donoghue (who lives with her female partner, Chris Roulston, and their two children, Finn, 10, and Una, 6) grounded? Perhaps, itâ€™s the anonymity of living in the provincial town of London, Ontario. Perhaps it is Donoghueâ€™s Irish roots. Or, perhaps, it is Donoghueâ€™s single-minded devotion to her craft.
Never in the margins or relegated to the LGBTQ sections of bookstores, Donoghue tackles the tough subjects -- love, mother-child bonds, family, class, immigration and death. Educated at University College Dublin and the University of Cambridge, Donoghue, Ph.D., writes with an unparalleled command of language and a piercing understanding of the human heart. This is why her strong voice has emerged above the din, catapulting Donoghue, a lesbian writer, into the broader world of literary achievement.
If you want a good read, make room for Emma Donoghue on your bookshelves.
When I caught up with Emma Donoghue, hereâ€™s what she had to say:
Q. You have included, or alluded to, LGBTQ relationships in your novels, Stir Fry, Hood, Landing, Life Mask and The Sealed Letter. How do you, as a writer, avoid being pigeon-holed as a gay writer?
A. I think the most important way to resist pigeonholing is to write about LGBTQ matters without apology, but also without coziness (assuming an LGBTQ readership) or crankiness (lecturing a straight readership). It also helps if you concentrate on some big life-or-death topics that matter to everybody. But you know, Iâ€™ve never objected to being called a lesbian writer; that would be bad manners, like badmouthing your own ethnic group.
Q. By your own admission, youâ€™ve never really experienced serious grief. How were you able to write Hood? Are you glad the novelâ€™s been re-released?
A. Tickled pink itâ€™s been re-released, yes! I suppose Hood â€“ being the first of my books that made me stretch into making-it-all-up territory â€“ gave me confidence for other challenges to come. You also take what youâ€™ve lived and extrapolate from it; I knew what it was like to be dumped and figured bereavement would have at least something in common with that.
Q. Room has sold over a million copies and was short-listed for the prestigious Man Booker Prize. Were you surprised by your success in 2010, with a book told in the voice of a 5-year-old about a heinous captivity and terrible crime?
A. I knew it was likely to sell better than all my others â€“ this was my first â€śhigh-conceptâ€ť novel. I had a good feeling about it from the start and it wrote so easily. But, yes, Iâ€™ve been amazed by the readers itâ€™s reached all over the world.
Q. You â€śnever had an honest jobâ€ťâ€¦What advice would you give aspiring writers?
A. My experience is a fluke. So donâ€™t delude yourself that itâ€™s the job thatâ€™s thwarting your wish to write the great novel. Many great first (or fifth, or tenth) novels are written by people with jobs who somehow (and they have all my respect) summon up the energy before or after work.
Q. What are you planning to write next?
A. Iâ€™m working on a novel about a San Francisco frog catcher in the 1870â€™s. Now thereâ€™s a world Iâ€™m having fun immersing myself in.