A literary gem in the arts festival crown

Emma Donoghue.

Emma Donoghue.

NO MORE than the Galway Races and the Galway Oyster Festival, not to mention Cúirt and the Galway Film Fleadh, the Galway Arts Festival has become a major event in the Irish festival calendar.

As the organisers have grown in confidence and professionalism, so have the quality of the acts and the wow factor of the spectacle. Even the publication of the festival programme is as much of an anticipated event as any that are announced within and this year’s is no different.

Its 48 pages announce a fortnight bristling with theatre, spectacle, music, talks and discussions, comedy, and visual arts that would make any festival goer’s mouth water. It promises, to coin a cliché, something for everybody.

One of the great strengths and delights of the festival is that hidden among the more spectacular gigs, there is always one quietly sitting in the corner that packs a much greater punch than its billing would suggest.

One such event is the reading by Emma Donoghue, the Irish writer, now living in Canada. She has written several novels but last year became something of an overnight success when her novel Room was shortlisted for the Booker prize and won several other prizes. She will be in the Hotel Meyrick, Eyre Square, at 6pm on Wednesday July 20.

What makes this event so tantalising is not that Room has won so many prizes and accolades, it is the fact that the concept and execution of the novel is such a tour de force that it is well nigh impossible to read it without being moved in some way. It is the stuff that nightmares are made of yet it reverberates with a real human sense of hope, love, and regeneration.

A terse tension is already evident in the opening two sentences: “Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I woke up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra.”

There is an immediate sense of anticipation. As the narration moves forward, the strange world of this unusual child is described in his own peculiar brand of English and reveals a world almost perversely self sufficient although he and Ma are the victims of the most horrific abuse.

Kidnapped while on her way to college seven years previous, Ma has been incarcerated in the Room since and is regularly assaulted by her captor Nick, by whom she has had two children, Jack being the only survivor.

Whenever Nick calls to the Room, Jack is hidden in Wardrobe as she won’t allow him lay eyes on the child let alone touch him. The only contact Jack has with the world is through a skylight and the television in the corner. For Jack the only real figures that exist other than Ma are the cartoon characters he sees on the television, the rest are Outside.

Exploring their world in Room, Donoghue never misses a beat. Gradually the idea of escape emerges, and as this idea becomes a possibility, the book takes on a new energy that is firmly sustained to the end.

The story is only a tiny part of what this book is about. Always sympathetic, but always honest – often searingly so – Room is an extraordinary testament the to the suffering and resilience of women who have suffered, and suffer, physical, mental, and sexual abuse; it is a testament to the personal courage and inner strength of these women; it is a testament to the power of their maternal instinct and inherent humanity; above all, it is a testament to their ability to survive and overcome these horrific ordeals, and retain their self respect and dignity.

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