If you miss Emma Donoghue’s appearance tonight (7 p.m.)Â Monday September 20 at SchulersÂ Books and Music at theÂ Eastwood Towne CenterÂ you will kick yourself. She is one of those authors whoÂ comes along infrequently and the buzz about her new book “Room” has got people’s attention. This past Sunday her book got the coveted cover story in the New York Times Book Review.
Canadian author Donoghue has written one of the more unusual books you will ever read. A combination of sheer horror and a mother and sonâ€™s love, the book is written in the voice of five-year old Jack, who has never known a world outside a locked shed where an abductor has held his â€œMaâ€ for seven years. Just this past week “ROOM” was shortlisted for the Man-Booker Prize for writing. The Man Booker Prize is one of the more prestigious writing awards in the world.Â A reading guide is available on the website. The following question and answer series with Donoghue helpsÂ define the book forÂ a reader.
Did the grim topic of your book affect your psyche or your familyâ€™s?
Only at the very beginning, when I was tracking down all the real-life cases I could find (and unfortunately there are many) of children raised in appallingly confined ways – in basements, attics, henhouses, or just treated like dirt, starved and tortured in the prison that an ordinary house can become if the adults are cruel enough. Â It was necessary research – I was trying to figure out exactly what a kid would need to survive intact – but it made me cry. Â Once I was on to drafting ROOM itself I felt much better, because Jack’s story has as much joy as sorrow in it.
As you were developing the plot for your book when did you decide to use Jack to tell the story?
That came right at the start: that was the whole idea. Â I never questioned it, or even considered letting any adult share the narration. Â I knew that if I trusted Jack with it, I might make something magical.
Â Have you written anything else that has delved into the theme of survival or evil?
My novel SLAMMERKIN (2000) is about a young girl who ends up as a street prostitute in 1860s London. Â That in many ways is a much grimmer book, because there’s nothing innocent about Mary, its heroine: she’s a survival-of-the-fittest alley cat.Â
The juxtaposition of pure evil with pure innocence is an amazing feat. Was the captor easy or hard for you to portray? Did you ask yourself what would I do in this situation? How would I react?
I decided early on not to make Old Nick interesting. Â Or rather, what’s interesting about him is how what a common-or-garden variety of evil he represents – rather than the exotic fetishistic psychopaths we’re so familiar with from thrillers. Â I tried to make him like any domestic bully: he thinks he has the right to make the women and children in his life (literally) stay in their place.
I did identify strongly with Ma, of course, but any time I wondered how I would cope in her situation I had to conclude that I would let my child watch TV 24/7 while I retreated into a dream-world based on what I could remember of nineteenth-century literature! Â I could imagine her strengths, her versatility and energy, but that doesn’t mean I manage to be like that. After writing ROOM I feel like a very mediocre mother indeed.Â
Your book is unlike any other were there any influences in movies, popular culture or books which you drew from?
Oh, there are many books and movies that have influenced ROOM, from ROBINSON CRUSOE and GULLIVER’S TRAVELS back in the early eighteenth-century to FINDING NEMO (a timeless parent-child love story) today. Â I would say it’s particularly steeped in fairy-tales.Â
Your pacing, twists and thrill content are exhaustive-surpassing most thrillers. Have you ever read thrillers?
I read them, certainly, especially the ones that are strong on character: Barbara Vine, Elizabeth George and Kate Atkinson would be three of my favorites. Â But I’ve never before managed to write anything thriller-like and it’s very exciting how it seizes readers!Â
Did the â€œroomâ€ exist only in your imagination or did you recreate it even somewhat physically? As I was thinking about the questions a newspaper ad for storage buildings ended up on my desk and I thought did you go to the Home Depot or Lowes or whatever they are in Canada and stand in one?
I stood in sheds, certainly, but I also used a home-design website to come up with a floorplan, and worked out measurements for each piece of furniture. Â And yes, anytime I drive past Home Depot now and see the rows of new sheds I get the shivers!Â
I think I may have read that you did recreate one escape plot with one of your children. Were there any other items for which you turned to them for advice or to hear how would they say something? Did you play any of the games Â detailed in the book with them?
Much of ROOM is based on the ordinary details of my parenting experience, certainly: the songs, the stories, the jokey rhyming. Â I charted my son Finn’s language (he was five when I was writing ROOM) and put a few of his comments and wonderings directly into Jack’s dialogue. Â And he was more than willing to let me roll him up in the rug to try out the escape for my ‘story about the bad guy who keeps the woman and the little boy locked in a shed’, though he found it harder to get out than either of us had expected, so I had to go back and completely rework the scene…
Did a curious six year old who knows you are a writer ever ask what are you working on? At what age will you your children read this book? Or what age do you think is appropriate to read this book?
Actually, when I was writing ROOM I thought it might end up as a Young Adult novel, so I deliberately kept the language clean. Â I know 13-year-olds who have read it, and I think I would give it to a bright 10-year-old. Â They already know the world is full of terrors, and ROOM is about ordinariness triumphing over terror.
Read more about the book at www.emmadonoghue.com.