Author celebrates ‘beauty and repression’ of Ireland in the 1850s

Emma Donoghue, the award-winning Irish writer, was in Trinity at the weekend for a special reading of her new book, The Wonder, and conversation co-hosted by the School of English, Dublin UNESCO City of Literature, and Picador Books.

Donoghue’s novel Room was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2010 and the film adaptation, for which she wrote the screenplay, earned four Oscar nominations earlier this year.

At the Trinity event, which took place in the Edmund Burke theatre, she read from The Wonder, a psychological thriller which is set in post-Famine Ireland. The book tells the story of an English nurse sent to watch an 11-year-old girl who appears to have survived without food for four months. The nurse, who has to investigate whether the girl is a fraud, meets a journalist hungry for a story. 

For this, her first full-length book set in Ireland since 1995, Donoghue took her inspiration from the numerous real-life cases throughout Europe and North American of so-called fasting girls. In conversation with the head of School of English Dr Aileen Douglas, who chaired the event, Donoghue spoke of her wish to represent the Irish Midlands in the 1850s with “all its beauties as well as its repressions”.

The novel, she explained, is set in Ireland and is structured around a series of oppositions – between England and Ireland, science and faith, adults and children – which are gradually shown to be more complicated than they seem.

“One reason I like historical fiction,” she said, “is because I like to go back before the labels got neatly applied to things. I like the muddiness of the explanations.”

In the Q&A which followed, she discussed her creative processes, writing for and about children, and her other projects with a large and appreciative audience.

Dublin is the fourth UNESCO City of Literature, and one of 20 UNESCO Cities of Literature worldwide.

Above (L-R): Jackie Lynam, Dublin UNESCO City of Literature, author Emma Donoghue and Aileen Douglas, School of English, at the event