Monday 5 December 2011

Devouring Books: Hood by Emma Donoghue

Before I read Room in May this year, I knew Emma Donoghue only for writing that super-acclaimed book (and, I think, super-acclaimed for good reason) and, at the time, I didn't even know she was a lesbian author. Not that it makes any difference at all, but the thing I find is, most GLBT writers tend to focus on GLBT issues, which is fine and all, but I think stepping outside that is a good thing too, as I think its good for anyone to step outside their comfort zone from time to time.

What Donoghue does in Hood though (and let's just be aware that this was only her second novel, and ohmigosh it's amazing) is that she tells a story that is both focused on a GLBT issue, as well as a wholly universal one too (in fact, I'd argue that it's much more universal than not). What Hood is all about is death and mourning, specifically the death of our heroine Pen's lover of 13 years, Cara, and is set in the week after Cara's death- that week where, you literally have no idea what you're doing, what's going on, funeral arrangements are set in motion and things are happening, and yet you're not really present for any of them, just vaguely aware that they're going on. Donoghue captures so so well all the wildly different emotions that go through you when someone, anyone, you love dies, and if this book had been any more realistic I would have been an utter mess, to be honest.

It's such an interesting book as well though, because although the death of someone you love is a universal thing, Pen has to face some extra circumstances that hardly anyone else has to think about. She is essentially a widow, only, since basically nobody 'mainstream' knew about her relationship with Cara, she has to pretend that it's only her housemate who has died, a death that would obviously still be difficult, but a lie that masks the love that they held for each other, and just how difficult this entire thing is for Pen. As she says, if her husband had died she would get 2 weeks off work, no question; because it's her housemate (and there's no chance of revealing their actual relationship to her boss because her boss is a nun, and whoops, there would go Pen's job!) Now, this book was written in 1991 (I think... it's set in 1991, anyway) and I would like to think that with Civil Partnerships and homosexuality being a more widely recognised thing (I don't mean widely recognised, but you know what I mean, right?) that, you know, if a man or woman's long term partner was killed, they'd get the same recognition as those in heterosexual relationships. Except, I suppose, if you work at a Catholic school, but in that case you really can't be helped anyway...

So anyway, apart from the 'well, I can't tell people I'm a lesbian and my girlfriend has just died and therefore nobody will know what I'm going through' thing, Pen's journey through the first week after Cara's death is so extremely realistic. Everything is there- the near breakdowns, the sense of not knowing what to do next, a kind of identity crisis, of who Pen actually is if not 'Cara's girlfriend'. All such natural thoughts and feelings, and all heartbreaking and so sad. What Donoghue does so magnificently, though, is fusing the past and the present, having Pen fall back on memories and dreams to reveal what their relationship was like, and then returning to the brutal fact of the present abruptly and harshly. It's really seamlessly done, and also reveals a tendency for extreme honesty within Pen- the fact that, she doesn't try to pretend that their relationship was perfect, or that she always agreed with all of Cara's actions, but that still, she loved her, and she misses her. It's seriously just so sad, but also so good.

I'm going to sort of not say more things now because you should read it yourself and break your heart a bit too. But what I'm going to end with is a quote that I think shows both the GLBT specific, and universal nature of this book all in one: "Nowadays, 'invisibility' was supposed to be the big problem, but the way I saw it was, all that mattered was to be visible to yourself." Pen is specifically talking about gay people being under-, or not, represented on the tv; but that all that's really important is to be honest with yourself about what your sexuality is. The way I see it though- isn't it important for all of us to be visible to ourselves? To try and figure out what it is we want, so that we can be as well equipped as we possibly can to get it? I think yes. So go, and remember to always be visible to yourself.


  1. Emma Donoghue writes about EVERYTHING. It is amazing. I plan on reading all of 'em at some point, so I'm glad this didn't suck.

  2. The only thing that makes me tentative about this one is it sounds so depressing. which I mean, makes sense for the topic but still. Makes it hard to pick up this over something happier

  3. @Reading Rambo- She is so amazing. I love her. And this very much didn't suck! It was loveliness incarnate

    @Red- It is a depressing topic, but its done in such a non-sentimental and kind of realist way which, now I've typed that, doesn't really make it any better! But it's totally sad, but not in a weeping way, and there's a lot of their past stuff which is complex and non-sad and now I'm just rambling but its really really good!

  4. I think if it's not a weepy thing (cos I'm so big and tough) that I'd like it better. The weepy stuff always feels so manipulative.