Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Conversation with Emma Donoghue

photo: Andrew Bainbridge
Emma Donoghue's brilliant novel, Room, was released in the U. S. last fall. It quickly received both critical praise and popular affection, including the enthusiastic recommendations of several Kepler's booksellers. I've included two of them here to tempt you:

Room is the place where 5-year-old Jack was born and the only home he has ever known. His Ma has been imprisoned there for seven years by Old Nick, who kidnapped her when she was a college student. Ma has devised play routines and physical education for Jack and taught him much about the outside world through the use of a television. But she realizes that they must escape if he is ever to have a normal life. And that she must depend on his bravery to make that escape possible. What she doesn't foresee is the incredible adjustment he will have to make to become part of the real world.

This is a dark and powerful love story that celebrates the strength of the human spirit, the  love of a mother and a child, and the will to go on against all odds. I highly recommend it. -Nancy Salmon 

Told from Jack's point of view, this book is both disturbing and uplifting, horrifying and yet beautiful. A book about survival, about hope, and mostly about  love. It is a book to savor - a book that has stayed with me and made me look again at all we take for granted. -Angela Mann

With that much bookseller excitement, how can you resist? Especially now that Room is freshly adorned in paperback covers.

Emma will be visiting Kepler's on Thursday, June 2nd, at 7:00 PM to celebrate the paperback release of Room. For more information, please follow this link. 

Megan Kurashige: Room is so immediately compelling. As readers we are, from the very beginning, immersed in the world and voice that belong to Jack. Was it at all frightening to commit your story so completely to the voice of such a young character, particularly one whose world has been entirely confined to such a small and spare space?

Emma Donoghue: No, it was one of those liberating limitations that writers love. A five-year-old's mind is seemingly small but actually massive; my experience of talking to my kids is that there's no subject they can't tackle and bring a fresh perspective to.

The novel tackles so many aspects of growing up and emerging into the outside world. It takes this ordinary and universal experience and pushes it into the most extreme high-relief. What did you find the most compelling about investigating this idea?

ED: The tug between freedom and safety. Readers are sometimes appalled to realise that they are thinking of Room as a cozy haven when it's a dungeon, but of course it's both. As as parent I'm constantly struggling to figure out what my kids need at any particular moment: a warning or a hug, routine or spontaneity, limits or exuberance...

MK: You are a literary scholar as well as a writer of fiction. How has your familiarity with literary history affected your fiction? Do you think you approach your fiction writing in a particular way because of your academic background?

I hope that background doesn't show too much! Sometimes readers at Q&As are unsettled to learn that I plan in such detail before I write a book, and that I'm hyper-conscious of literary precedents, symbolism, etc. Room is full of references to other works, from Gulliver's Travels to The Catcher in the Rye, and my hope is that erudite readers will enjoy picking them up but other readers will not be irritated by them. I wanted Room to work at the level of plain realism first, but of course it's a philosophical parable as well; I really hoped it would be enjoyed by academics and by 11-year-olds.

MK: I've read a few interviews in which you mention that you are working on a novel about an unsolved murder in 1870s San Francisco. Can you tell us anything about your new project, or about the process of writing or researching it?

ED: All I'll say for now is that Victorian San Francisco was a thrillingly modern city: multi-cultural, fast-moving, even self-conscious about its own status as a haven for eccentrics. I'm very much enjoying this new territory, and the novel is also new territory for me in genre terms because it's a sort of a thriller.

MK: Room seems to evoke very strong, visceral reactions from readers. Did you expect it to have such an enormous effect on such a large audience?

ED: I thought it would work strongly on those readers it found, but no, I had no idea that it would end up being translated into forty languages...

How can stories change the world?

The fastest way possible: by changing people. Look how powerfully Uncle Tom's Cabin helped convince a whole generation of the repulsiveness of slavery.

You can visit Emma at her website and follow her on Twitter.

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