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Emma Donoghue at Galway Arts Festival

When Emma Donoghue arrived onto the stage of the Meyrick Hotel to rapturous applause it was evident how comfortable and at home she was to be in the company of such an adoring audience. The unprecedented success of her latest novel, Room, secured her the Hughes & Hughes novel of the Year Award; won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize regional prize (Caribbean and Canada); Won the Rogers Writers Fiction Award (2010) and was long-listed for the Man-Booker Prize as well as being nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction. It is no wonder Donoghue is so accustomed to greeting large adoring crowds.

Donoghue gave the crowd a generous, insightful and honest account of the creation of Room, of the development of the characters Ma and Jack and also into her own career as a writer coupled with her life as a mother of two children. Of course one of the first points discussed was the influence of the Fritzel case on the novel. Donoghue did admit it of course did stir her to create Room  but wished it to be yet separate from the Fritzel story and from the added attention which it would also afford the evil perpetrator of confinement in that real-life case. Felix Fritzel, who is a real-life Jack, was born into captivity. In his walled prison he knew nothing of life or a world beyond his mother, siblings and his captor. Felix was five when he was freed. Jack is five at the start of his story. Donoghue noticed how in a media interview Felix said plainly “the world is nice”, – how a child, obviously scared and bewildered in his new-found freedom had any concept of the “world being nice” provoked thought to what is behind this statement.

Emma Donghue at Galway Arts Festival

Donoghue consciously made Jack to be a five-year old: old enough to communicate his story but still, quoting William Blake, full of ‘innocence and expereince’. She made Jack male also to keep the male-female balance even, creating a insight and perspective of all aspects of the story, even citing the likes of Adam and Eve and Mary and Joseph as examples of such a balance in the stories of the history of mankind.

It was interesting to hear the influence of Donoghue’s own life as a mother and watching the mannerisms, phrases and actions of her young children, thinking about the comforting and innocent lies all parents tell their children, to answer their inquisitiveness and put their mind at ease while also protecting them, as Ma tries so hard to do for Jack. Also, Donoghue examined the point where the ‘Room’ of the novel, the horrific prison space, which was a nightmare scenario for any adult who has life experience was paradoxically a near ‘idyll’ situation for Jack, who was born into this blind world and the intimacy it afforded him with his mother and the security she strove above all else to provide for him. It was a very touching point.

When questioned about the escape scene where Jack flees into which for him is the complete unknown, Donoghue wanted to explore how Jack would see, react and interact with a foreign world and also how Ma would realign herself with her child into a world  and society that she left some number of years ago. What would be totally banal to us would be wonderous to Jack. The dilemma for Ma is whether to stay obedient to her captor, keeping jack ‘safe’ in the Room but also unaware of life outside or else risk his life so that he may actually escape and have a fulfilled life experience.

Room

Donoghue discussed Room not being an overly descriptive or visual book, the space and characters are brought to life through dialogue and conversation, which is the basest form of human experience and which allows one to share and learn simultaneously. interestingly Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is mentioned as a reference as there also, the action is overshadowed by the conversation, the sharing of stories. Like Ma and Jack in Room, at least there were two of them.

For all those who quizzed Donoghue about the possibility of a sequel to Room, that would show how Ma and Jack have adapted to life in modern society, they were met with a considered ‘No’. It is obvious Donoghue has given this considerable thought. She outlined however she thought mother and son had both been through enough and now their lives were as normal and boring as anyone else’s and just wouldn’t make a good book! A consolation prize of a possible film version of Room is a much more definite agenda. She has written a screenplay which at this news arose audible yelps of joy from the audience, but Donoghue teasingly said it won’t hit screens for a few years yet, she wants to safeguard the story and protect it from becoming something it was never meant to be. That level of dedication to her story and characters and near maternal instinct over this book means perhaps Donoghue isn’t so different from Ma after all.

For my review of Room click here http://tiny.cc/pk7dc

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2011 in Books, Culture

 

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Cover Story – Translating The Image

Browsing around your local book shop may well be an art in decline. Scrolling around your e-book site and pressing ‘click to buy’ is a relatively new trend and if recent details of the decline in sales in on-street book shops are taken into the account then the turn to digital format books will only increase. (See recent article by Bob Johnston, owner of the Gutter Bookshop in Dublin, published on the Bookseller blog here )

When deciding how best to part with your cash for a decent new read, what is it that attracts you to a particular book and how does it grab your attention? You may pay attention to recent reviews in the papers or recommendations from friends, colleagues, and favourite bloggers or from your book club. Others hit the streets and dedicate some time to pacing up and down the aisles and rows of their local book seller, waiting for inspiration or for that book to catch their eye, like a old friend in a crowded street.

The snobbier readers among us will flatly deny that a book cover is what first grabs your eye and will refute that a cover can influence a sale, judging a book by its cover and all that. But let’s face it; a creative, interesting and artistic cover is a hugely important factor. Getting that book into your hand to read the blurb, even if you don’t buy, is success for a book jacket designer. Looking at the design of the cover reveals a lot about how the book is marketed as well as what it tries to express about the book it happily encloses.

Look at what dominates the cover? Is it the authors name or the title of the book? Is it accolades previously won by the book or snippets of blurb from reviews? Is it a particular image that represents a central character or theme from the book? Whatever it is, there is always a major draw to the book jacket that must catch the readers eye. This is an aspect of sales that e-books can never have. They are essentially invisible until you type in your search for that particular book or author. Browsing virtual book stores is not nearly as satisfying!

Translating a book is a sure sign of success for an author. Sending that work to an international audience is a test of the writing and the ability for a non-native audience to react and engage with a particular issue or story.  When it comes to translating a particular book, the language is obviously a strikingly difficult prospect and challenge for a translator. An understanding and relationship with the author is important is establishing control on the tone and translation of a particular book. Translating the text is one aspect but how does translating the book cover and cover image reflect this international translation? What works as a cover image in reflecting the book in one country perhaps will not engage readers in other cultures. It is interesting to look at international examples of translated Irish novels and see how the covers are treated in the international perspective.

The slideshow below features some international translations of works by Irish authors based in Ireland and also in America and also includes examples of works written by international authors which are also translated into various languages. If you can think of works translated and have interesting translations of covers as well as the text, do leave a comment!

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2011 in Books

 

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A Room With No View

When life pre-empts fiction, it is then at a point where one pauses and asks not “What?”, but “Why?” It is post-event, post action and leaves one only with the option to ‘react’. If you are to pick up a copy of Room by Emma Donoghue without knowing of the terrifying and chilling stories of the captivity and abuse of Jaycee Lee Dugard or Elizabeth Fritzl, the story would lack none of its impact or amazement at such an existence as that lived by Jack and Ma. However, armed with the details of real and similar stories, the gritty accounts of subterranean and bunkered life, then your reaction to ‘fiction’ becomes blurred.

Room is the story of 5-year old Jack, born into existence but not into the world as we know it or as his mother once knew it. Jack’s worlds is eleven feet square and very little else. Jack, oblivious to anything outside the lead-lines walls of his shed-prison, is unsettlingly content in his private world where the only human contact he encounters are that of his mother and the shadowy night visits of ‘Old Nick’. Room presents how captivity tortures Ma and Jack but in very different ways. Ma was just 18 when she was kidnapped and locked up. She was a college student, popular, studious and care-free. It was her good nature that saw her lured by her captor. Her memories of her former life are a constant pain as she knows of the joy of life outside Room. Jack, born into this walled world knows nothing of life and is unknown to him, tortured by his complete ignorance of real life.

The story is told in Jack’s voice. The child narrator adds a purer innocence to the sad tale. His frustration is palpable at not being able to comprehend the possibility of life outside Room. Ma and a small television set are his only sources of information. Anything outside of this is beyond Jack’s mind. His friends are inanimate objects, the drab and meagre possessions which make up the home.  Relationships with these objects such as ‘lamp’, ‘ball’ or ‘rug’ are easy to Jack as they can’t hurt him.

Jack has simply always only known a life where he is enclosed. The symbolism of his birth and life are not lost on this theme. He moves from the womb, to Room, sleeps in a wardrobe and even makes a break for freedom wrapped up in ‘Rug’. Ma, ever the figure of strength balances her hatred for her captor with her patience and devotion to her son.

Emma Donoghue

Protecting Jack at all costs from the grips of ‘Old Nick’ is the greatest act of devotion she can deliver.

 

The idea of a captive verses public life are explored and teased out expertly by Donoghue. The media frenzy and incessant and morbid interest by the public in their brutal and grotesque life in Room is a fair reflection and commentary on current society where the instant access and dissemination of ‘news’ and information via social media prove no-one or nothing is ever private anymore. While never contemplating a return to ‘Room’, the pressure of media notoriety provides its own struggles for the tragic pair of Ma and Jack. How Jack comprehends the possibility of human contact, the concept of family, of truth, trust and freedom make this story much more than just a commentary on any case of a sadistic rapist in Austria. In fact, to limit this book to simply being a knee-jerk reaction to that case does not do justice to the inert beauty, warmth and also tragedy of Jack and Ma’s life and relationship.

The voice of Jack as the child narrator is effective but at times does prove inconsistent as at times he composes sentences that should be far beyond his comprehension or vocabulary. This is more than a minor quibble in what is simply an astounding and horrifying story. Donoghue’s child narrator is still a most engaging child character, as credible as perhaps Mark Haddon’s child narrator in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. It is a book that compels you to read it in one sitting so don’t be surprised if you find your entire day or night devoted to this story! On finishing this 2010 Man Booker prize nominated book, the tragic realisation is that life indeed is stranger and more terrifying than fiction.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2011 in Books, Culture

 

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