Emma Donoghue‘s 2010 novel Room was her seventh novel, but the first that received enough international acclaim, awards and attention that it was destined to become a feature film. The out writer, who has written several lesbian-themed works, including non-fiction books such as Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature, anticipated Room might be adaptable for the big screen, so she started to write the screenplay before the book was even published. But the Irish-born, now-Canadian citizen is an anomaly in that, not only did she stay on as the screenwriter when the film rights were purchased, but she was frequently on-set and a huge part of the movie that opens today in theaters nationwide.
Room, starring Brie Larson and newcomer Jacob Tremblay, won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, beating heavy-hitters like Freeheld, The Danish Girl, The Martian and Black Mass. Reviews have been nothing short of spectacular, with praise for the stars as well as the director, Lenny Abrahamson. And, of course, Emma Donoghue.
In case you haven’t read the novel (which you should!), the film follows the story pretty faithfully. Ma (Brie Larson) was kidnapped by a stranger (whom she refers to as Old Nick) when she was a teenager. Kept in a shed and raped over several years, she eventually had a child, Jack, who is five when we meet him and the singular room that is his world. He has never seen anything outside of room or his Ma or Old Nick. The things he knows, from his wardrobe to his spoon, are his friends; his comfort; his safety. Ma wants to escape, and she needs Jack’s help. She explains that what Jack watches on TV isn’t a fantasy, but a reality they can be a part of if he is willing to attempt what feels like the impossible and find help. But (and this isn’t a spoiler, as it’s a large part of the film’s plot), Jack is successful and he is soon seeing the outside world for the first time. Meanwhile, Ma is attempting to adjust after the horrors she’s been through, and sometimes life seemed simpler in the shed.
Director Lenny Abrahamson, Brie Larson, Joan Allen, Jacob Tremblay and Emma Donoghue
Emma Donoghue is happy with the film, telling The Star, “It’s a group achievement where the book was entirely mine, but I feel fully involved in it — yeah, I’m thrilled with it. I honestly couldn’t say which is better. Once you see the performance of, say, Brie (Larson), she seems more vivid than anything in the book. I know the book has a particular kind of hold on readers; the book gets to give you a lot of different thoughts, the book gives you more detail, whereas the film gives you pleasures that are harder to pin down.”
Room is currently shortlisted for Best Film at the London Film Festival and is receiving early Oscar buzz. (Brie Larson will surely face off against Cate Blanchett for her performance in Carol.) Emma, who has two children with her partner, has continued to be a prolific writer, publishing her eighth novel Frog Music in 2014 and having just sold her next work, The Wonder, to Little, Brown and Company. The book is set in “rural 1850s Ireland” and “tells the riveting story of Anna, an eleven-year-old who has stopped eating but remains alive and well, and Lib, an English nurse charged with determining whether the girl is a fraud.”
In an interview with Slate last year, Emma talked about the first time she read a literary book about lesbians (Jeanette Winterson‘s The Passion), and how it changed her life:
“…so many of us, when we were first seeking out lesbian storylines, were doing it like desperate junkies, searching for something to relieve our needs! So it wouldn’t have occurred to us that this was a cultural product that other people would like to read. But also, when I first found lesbian books, usually imports from America, I bought any of them, all of them! And a lot of them weren’t that literary, but they hit the spot. They saved my life. They made me realize I could be a part of this world. But they seemed a different thing from literature. The Winterson was a real breakthrough for me. I also remember the first moment—and this might sound like a strange breakthrough—but I remember the first moment I went into a bookstore and there was a lesbian book, and I didn’t buy it. I thought, oh, I don’t actually need to buy that one! I’ll wait a buy a good one.”
Although Room does not have any queer angles, Emma’s work frequently has lesbian characters and themes, and she said she doesn’t mind being referred to as a “lesbian writer.”
“Even if a writer is born and bred in America and is an American citizen, they will still be called a black writer or a Latino writer, no matter how famous they are it will happen,” she told Stylist. “So I don’t feel any more objection to a term like lesbian writer than I would object to any of these other writers being called by their tags – so long as nobody thinks that that’s going to tie my hands when it comes to writing because clearly I write about whatever impresses me.”