Thursday, February 25, 2016 |
The film Room has been a regular on the awards circuit this year, with an Academy Award win for actress Brie Larson and an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay for Emma Donoghue. Based on Donoghue's bestselling book, Room is a moving, heartbreaking portrayal of motherhood and survival.
With Room dominating the headlines, Donoghue has announced a couple new projects on the horizon: a new novel The Wonder slated for a fall release, and a script for Frog Music, based on her 2014 novel. Below, Donoghue shares the books that have shaped her life and writing.
The childhood book that made her love reading
My breakthrough book was The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis. A wonderful babysitter - a lapsed trainee priest, actually - read me the entire set when I was very young (I think about four). I'm now on my second go of reading them aloud to my kids. They still turn up in my work - for instance in Room, Jack's private retreat, Wardrobe, owes a lot to the wardrobe in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
The genre she was obsessed with
Fairy tales obsessed me from about seven to twelve. I remember bringing Grimm's Tales (a thick hardback) with me on a sleepover at my cousins' and being completely unsociable all evening. In our local public library, I sought out books of Russian fairy tales, Greek fairy tales, Irish fairy tales... and when I figured out that the same motifs kept turning up in (but given different flavours) in these different national collections, I thought I'd made a real discovery, until my literary critic father Denis Donoghue told me Vladimir Propp had identified them back in 1928.
The book that inspired her to rewrite fairytales
Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber is an astonishingly sensuous, risky revisionist take on classic fairy tales. She and other feminist writers of the 1980s made me realise that all the old storylines could be rethought - even exploded. I published my own book of revisionist fairy tales (focused on relations between women) called Kissing the Witch, and fairy tale motifs pop up in everything I write.
Her "desert island" book
My mother often quoted Emily Dickinson's poems when I was growing up, and if I had to pick one endlessly interesting book to bring to a desert island it might be her Collected Poems. She was also crucial to me as an example of a truly eccentric writer who left the world behind to follow her private vision.
The book that inspired her to write about LGBTQ characters
Jeanette Winterson's The Passion was the first novel that made me feel that lesbian fiction and literary fiction weren't incompatible. (That seems a strange worry now, but in the 1980s it seemed as if the lesbian-themed books I sought out were all pretty lowbrow!) It gave me the confidence to start writing literary fiction that had same-sex storylines, without feeling committed to any particular 'positive representation' or agenda.
The first Canadian novel she read
The first Canadian novel I ever read - long before I moved here in 1998 - was Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. It's still the best feminist speculative fiction I know; so horribly plausible, that rise in extreme right-wing ideology, and that moment when the narrator finds her ATM card doesn't work anymore because women's bank accounts have been frozen... Something I've always found inspiring about Atwood is the way she ignores labels and categories, writing books set in the past, present, or future, whenever and wherever her imagination wants to go.