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An Interview with Emma Donoghue

So I loved reading “Room” by Emma Donoghue. You can read the review here I was so taken in by the book, that I decided to interview Emma Donoghue via email. Here is a quick interview:

How did the story of “Room” come about? Why the unusual theme?

Oh, I’ve written about more unusual things in my historical fiction: one of my short stories is about a woman in eighteenth-century England who pretended to give birth to rabbits! So you can see I have no fear of freakish subjects.  ROOM came about because I had two kids (of 4 and 1) when I heard about the Fritzl case in Austria, and I instantly thought of writing a novel from the point of view of such a child-set-free.

How was it to envision a novel from the perspective of a five-year old? Did it have its own set of challenges?

It’s a limitation, yes, but limitations are writers’ friends: it meant there was no danger of the book rambling or losing its way.  I worked hard on coming up with a form of grammar and idiom which would be child-like but not actually as confusing as a real five-year-old’s.

The theme of “Room” is a very strong one. How did it impact you as a writer?

It was a joy to write.  I knew what I was doing, technically, and I knew that my themes were ones that matter to everyone.

 There was underline, “Fear” that I felt while reading the book. I wanted Ma and Jack to be safe. Was the element of fear and apprehension difficult to deal with while writing the book?  

No, I must admit that thinking ‘aha, my readers will feel terrified here’ is a great comfort and reassurance to a writer.  What frightens us is the idea of you readers getting bored and putting down the book.

How does it feel to be short-listed for “Room”?

Absolutely wonderful.  I think the Booker endorsement will persuade many people to tackle this book who might otherwise have been turned off by the premise.

If you were the one parent in a room, how would you manage things?

Badly.  I suspect I would let the child watch TV 24 hours a day.

Was the approach to Room deliberately fairy-taleish?

Absolutely.  I wanted the novel to work as realism but also to have this whole other archetypal pattern, which alludes to fairytales as well as Greek myths and above all the Mary and Jesus story.

How is beauty found in the unbearable, just like Jack and Ma do in the book?

I have frequently found that my best writing emerges from the almost unbearable.

Room by Emma Donoghue

Ok so here goes. I am not a fan of the Booker Nominations. For one, I do not get them. Second, they seem to be not to close to making readers read without any hiccups. Having said that, I had to chew on my words (and how) once I started reading, “Room” by Emma Donoghue.

I am not new to Emma’s works. I have read “Slammerkin” and loved it beyond words and the same magic was re-created with “Room”.

I was taken in from the very start: “Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. Was I minus numbers?”

 Now that’s the power of writing. Something that grips you from the very beginning and doesn’t let go of you. And so starts the story of Ma and Jack who live in an eleven feet by eleven feet Room. They have no contact with the outside world. Jack doesn’t know what it means. He has spent his days playing with things he can make do with in the confines of the room, watching shows on TV (He thinks that everything and everyone he sees in the TV is unreal), and reciting and learning the songs, rhymes and stories that his Ma remembers. He has only been in touch (and that too not literally) with someone known as, “Old Nick” who visits his mother every night.

They are two captives being held in captivity and the story obviously is told from two perspectives.

Donoghue has captured their voices beautifully. The reaction of Jack when he gets to know of the Outside world and how sometimes a safe place can go awry, after Ma decides to plan an escape.

For me the book was an eye-opener. Of what parents do to keep their children from harm, to help them grow and make them take tiny steps – one at a time so they do not ever get hurt.

I loved reading the story from Jack’s point of view all the time. It is well-crafted.

According to me everyone must read this book. Please read it.

Room by Emma Donoghue; Picador; Available at all leading book stores; ₨499;