I like to create worlds out of words. It thrills me…Every time you write, it is like an enclosure. It’s a private process and then it becomes very public. – Emma Donoghue
It’s not every day that a celebrity author/award-winning screenwriter visits a small city centre but thanks to the organizers and appreciative sponsors of the South Western International Film Festival (SWIFF)*, Emma Donoghue made a special public appearance this summer at the Imperial Theatre in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.
The Friday evening event featured the screening of the 2015 movie Room adapted from her internationally successful novel by the same name. Both dark and hopeful, the story focused on the close bond between an abducted woman (Joy “Ma” Newsome) and her son (Jack) born in captivity. Similar to the special features added to a DVD movie, the ticket price included an introduction with SWIFF Executive Director Ravi Srinivasan and Lambton County Warden Bev MacDougall plus a follow-up “live” question and answer session with author Donoghue seated on stage.
The audience embraced the humourous and insightful comments.
For example, although her inspiration for the story was derived by the true case of Josef Fritzl, an Austrian who fathered seven children with his captive daughter, Donoghue wanted her fictional tale to focus on one child. Using a five year old’s point of view, she aimed to emphasize the “story of childhood versus the crime element”.
She revealed that much of the child’s character, Jack, came from her own family. “I got the idea for Room when my kids were four and one….when I was writing the book, I had a five year old in the house” to watch and help with her character’s actions and dialogue. “I had to be careful….I didn’t want to accidentally call my son Jack.”
Donoghue was especially proud of the fact that the movie was Canadian and filmed in Toronto so she could visit the set on a regular basis. “Most of the cast is also Canadian except for two American actors who play minor roles…the child star is from Vancouver.”
She added that she was not worried about guarding the book’s content and was pleased she had a major role in creating the screenplay which was nominated for an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay and won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Film and Best Screenplay.
“There’s an element of fluke when it comes to receiving awards,” she said in a modest tone. “A writer contributes only half the story. The reader adds the other half.”
Currently, Room, her seventh book has been translated into 35 languages. A quick search on the internet shows that on Goodreads**, over 478,000 readers have rated the book: 35% (167,632 people) gave it top marks with five stars and 37% (188,635) gave it four stars. Amazon.ca*** reviews were also mainly positive with an average ranking of 4.3.
I had mixed feelings about the book. As stated in my own Goodreads Review, “I wanted to like this book more [than I did]! My expectations were too high. It [won] several prestigious awards and was a finalist for several other awards including the Man Booker Prize and the Governor General’s Award…Certainly the unique point-of-view of the five year old boy softened the horrors of his mother’s captivity. His innocence, naivety, and curiosity were strongly portrayed. However, as several reviewers on this [Goodread’s] feed have already mentioned, the earlier pages didn’t yank me into the story. Yes, the tedium helped to set the tone of the book and reinforced the frustration of living in a small room but is this something I wanted to read over the summer?” [As a poet, I wanted] “to be dazzled by rich and poetic language but this is just not possible from such a young voice. It took about 80 pages before the storyline began to hold my attention.”
Also, due to the ominous and heart-wrenching subject matter, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see the movie. I waited until the last minute to purchase my ticket for the SWIFF event with the hopes of better understanding Donoghue’s motivate for writing the story in the manner in which she did. I’m so glad I attended.
The screen version (directed by Lenny Abrahamson) was riveting which surprised me because books are normally stronger than their adaptations. The musical score and cinematography of the opening scenes immediately pulled me into the story. Even though, I knew the plot outline, I sat on the edge of my seat and could feel my hands sweating and my heart beating during the whole performance.
The acting was superb. Brie Larson who played the character Joy “Ma” Newsome, the captive women, won the Academy Award for Actress in a Leading Role. Jacob Tremblay who portrayed Jack should also be commended for his stellar performance.
The timeliness of this story reinforces the need to generate some discussion about abduction, child-rearing, mental illness and healing. Bravo to the author for tackling such difficult themes.
As Donoghue told the audience, “This film could really have been messed up.” She was referring to the care required to work with the right filmmaker: someone who shared the same vision and intent for the story.
Overall, “I like the film just as much as the book” said Donoghue. “….novels and films have their own strengths…You don’t look at what is lost or kept. You want to tell the story in the best way for the medium. A book is more detailed and narrative. Film is fast…Film is visual…Film has emotional effect, especially with music.”
As a writer/reader/reviewer, I will definitely seek out more of Donoghue’s written work before making a final decision about her storytelling and writing styles. How about you? Her ninth novel The Wonder is expected to be released by HarperCollins Publishers this fall.
Additional information about Emma Donoghue can be found on her website.
Descriptions about her books are located on the HarperCollins Canada website.
Additional information about SWIFF and their 10-films-2-concerts-2-parties lineup for their 2nd annual film festival, November 3 to 6, 2016 in Sarnia can be found on their website.
*Special thanks to the South Western International Film Festival for allowing me to post select comments from the introduction and question and answer portion of “An Evening with Emma Donoghue”, Friday, August 12, 2016 at the Imperial Theatre, Sarnia, Ontario. The selection and interpretation of these comments are based on my blogger’s notes and attendance at the event.
**Stats from Goodreads August 18, 2016.
***Stats from amazon.ca August 18, 2016.