‘The Room’ based on filial love

New Delhi: Irish writer Emma Donoghue, the youngest on the Man Booker Prize shortlist for 2010, wanted to probe the dark element of parent-child love in her novel, ‘The Room’. The protagonist, she says, is a boy whose small world must inevitably open up to a wider one.

" `The Room` could be described as a drama of parent-child love - rather than a simple celebration," Donoghue, 40, told reporters in an e-mail interview from Canada, the country that she has made her home.

"I was interested in the dark side of the parent-child relationship; the claustrophobia, fury - as well as the light side of filial love."

The real life abduction of 42-year-old Elizabeth Fritzl, who was imprisoned in a concealed corner of the basement for 24 years by her father Josef Fritzl in Austria, set the context for the book, the writer said.

"The case which came to light in 2008 put the idea into my mind," Donoghue said. "But the book is not closely based on that or any other kidnapping case," she was emphatic. It gave her the necessary canvas to plot the story on.

"The Room", a rather unusual drama played out in a closed space, is a study of the sublime nuances of a relationship between a mother and son confined to a room.

Jack is five and is excited about his birthday. He lives with his "ma in a room that has a locked door and a skylight". The room measures 11 ft by 11 ft. The book is told in his voice.

Jack loves watching television and the toons are his friends. But Jack knows that none of the characters are real. The only things that look tangible are mother and his own self till the day his mother says there is a world outside...And the unexpected journey to freedom "from the crater, the hole where something happened, begins".

The storytelling format is childlike, but the book, Donoghue claims, is complex and psychological in scope. "I wrote the book for adults, but I did have the notion that older children - say, 10 and up - might read it too. So I deliberately kept sexual matters off-stage," she said.

The room where Jack and his mother are held captive is also the prison of the mind - symbolising constraints, Donoghue said, probing the latent meaning between the texts.

"The room is a womb, in a sense. But it is also the prison of consciousness - where everyone of us is locked in a single skull," the writer said.

Jack is a symbol of timelessness - of freedom in that cell, Donoghue said. "Actually, I see Jack as a more timeless figure: the child whose small world must inevitably open up to a wider one as he grows," Donoghue said.

Her 1995 novel, "Hood", won the Stonewall Book Award and "Slammerkin" (2000) won the Ferro-Grumley award for lesbian fiction. Her most recent collection of short stories, "Touchy Subjects", was published in 2006.

Born Oct 24, 1969, Donoghue is a playwright, literary historian and novelist. She has been an avid reader since childhood. "I had a few favourites like Charles Dickens, Alice Munro and David Foster Wallace," she said.

Donoghue began reading at the age of seven. "I first read in Dublin, poems about fairies. I wrote then for the same reason I do now because it thrills me to put words together and make something that never existed before," she said.

Donoghue is currently writing a novel set in San Francisco in the 1870s.

The writer loves contemporary Indian fiction in English. "Some of my favourites are Indian writers living in Canada (as I do), such as the incomparable Rohinton Mistry," she said.

Donoghue, whose fiction has been described as "original, darkly beautiful, revelatory and gripping" by critics, shares the Man Booker shortlist with Peter Carey, Damon Galgut, Howard Jacobson, Andrea Levy and Tom McCarthy.



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