Author of Room heads to Niagara libraries

John Law

By John Law, Niagara Falls Review

'Room' author Emma Donoghue will read from her latest book 'The Wonder' at the Pelham Public Library Sept. 26 and Fort Erie Public Library Sept. 28. PHOTO: Craig Glover/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network

'Room' author Emma Donoghue will read from her latest book 'The Wonder' at the Pelham Public Library Sept. 26 and Fort Erie Public Library Sept. 28. PHOTO: Craig Glover/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network

It was a dark, claustrophobic story pretty much deemed unfilmable. So imagine author Emma Donoghue’s surprise last year, walking red carpets and meeting the Hollywood elite for the movie version of her 2010 novel Room.

It went on to earn four Oscar nominations, including a Best Adapted Screenplay nod for Donoghue. Star Alison Brie won Best Actress, playing a woman held captive in a tiny shed with her five-year-old son.

So how swanky is life for the London, Ont. author now that she’s gotten a taste of the bright lights?

“It’s really not,” she says with a laugh, on the line from the UK where she has started a six-week book tour.

“I mean, I have some red carpet events in my life, but that just makes the comic contrast all the more noticeable when I’m slouching around the house in my pajamas!

“The glamour is not spread equally over my whole life. There’s my ordinary, busy life, then every now and then I’ll be on some red carpet and there’s a strange gap between one thing and another.”

After the Oscar buzz, it’s back to the grind for Donoghue, who has just released her tenth novel, The Wonder. Even now, after more than 20 years publishing books, she feels a twinge of butterflies with every release. As she pulls into her London, UK hotel, she’s nervously glancing at early reviews online.

“The first week of a tour you’re always worried about reviews,” she says. “Each book comes comes into the world naked and vulnerable. Just because they liked previous books doesn’t mean they’ll like the next.”

She needn’t worry. Early reviews for The Wonder have been stellar, with USA Today’s Steph Cha praising it as “deliciously gothic” and the New York Times’ Sarah Lyall calling it “fascinating.” Based on actual events, the story takes place in an Irish village in 1859, where an English nurse is hired to watch over an 11-year-old girl who has survived without food for four months. With the religious residents convinced she’s a miracle, the nurse keeps tabs to either expose the child or confirm her seemingly supernatural abilities.

Much like Room, it’s a dark nugget of history she found fascinating.

“It’s funny, you’d think I could just make up stuff myself like other writers do,” says Donoghue, who will read from the book at the Pelham Public Library Sept. 26 and the Fort Erie Public Library - Centennial branch Sept. 28. “But somehow, the tiny little grit of historical incident is so stimulating to my imagination, I just love the kind of gap between what we know - the hard facts - and the imponderable, the stuff we’ll never know.

“In this case, I researched 50 different cases of these fasting girls, and no one of them was the perfect basis for a novel. So I thought, I’ll write my own but I’ll draw on everything I’ve learned about these people.”

For the Dublin-born Donoghue, it’s the most attention she’s received for a new book in the wake of Room’s success last year. But just like Room, it’s hardly movie material - in fact, Room would have never seen a movie theatre had Donoghue not insisted it stay true to its grim, unsettling premise.

“I had chosen the less commercial path,” she says. “I had not sold Room to any big studios, even though there was a lot of interest. I deliberately turned away from the obvious kind of ‘star making’ power of the big studios and I (went) for a not particularly well known Irish director and I made it an Irish-Canadian co-production. This is not usually the stuff of which Oscars are made!”

Her decision paid off, but rewarding as it was, she refuses to write with movies in mind going forward.

“I got an e-mail from a teacher recently asking if I now write novels in the hope of getting them filmed,” she says. “I thought, that’s such an insulting thing to say to anyone who writes fiction. I would never see fiction as a ticket to Hollywood.

“I love novels in themselves. They’re my favourite form, I love the fact I get to call all the shots in fiction, I get to make my own little world. So no…film is an extra for me. It’s another genre I like very much, but it’s not really my home turf.”


  • WHO: Emma Donoghue
  • WHERE/ WHEN: Pelham Public Library - Sept. 26, 1 p.m. & Fort Erie Public Library - Centennial Branch - Sept. 28, 1 p.m.