By Eve Kenneally, CutBank Poetry Editor
I first fell in love with Emma Donoghue when I was studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland 4 years ago, when we were assigned her 1995 novel Hood for our Contemporary Irish Fiction class. I have an extremely vivid memory of reading the entirety of it on a train ride one weekend and being left completely speechless: not only was the novel gorgeous and vivid and heart-wrenching, but I had also never encountered a book with such complex and complete queer characters before.
(In fact, I visited the secondhand bookstore closest to my apartment several times that semester, taking a nearly complete Emma Donoghue collection back to DC and devouring them that summer.)
Hood takes place the week after the death of narrator Pen’s longtime partner Cara, pulling you through Pen’s grief as she attempts to navigate the political difficulties of being a gay and grieving woman in 1990s Ireland. Furthermore, Pen teaches at a Catholic school and has to write off Cara’s death as being that of a roommate. She is completely deprived of the right to mourn publicly or properly; seeing how she internalizes her grief and copes practically all on her own is immensely powerful and heartbreaking.
As the New York Times book review stated at the time, “The achievement of "Hood" may lie in its very ordinariness. It states indirectly that love, homosexual or heterosexual, is simply love.” What blew my mind about this book was that it wasn’t merely marketed as being a lesbian love story, but one of grief, complete with the nuanced frustration and pain that anyone who has encountered any kind of tumultuous or unfaithful relationship can relate to.
Cara isn’t granted immunity because of her death. In fact, part of Pen’s grieving process is to trace through the origins of her relationship with Cara, up until they moved in together. Cara is difficult and she’s allowed to remain difficult because she has been granted the right to exist as a complicated character and partner.
Donoghue has been cast into the spotlight lately due to the film adaptation of her 2008 novel Room, which is also a wonderful book. I just don’t want to see her first novels and short stories overlooked as a result, especially because writing as a queer woman from a conservative and Catholic country offers immeasurably invaluable insight. When I first read it, I was a recently and tentatively “out” 20-year-old traveling in a different country: no book has ever made me feel more at home, or stayed with me in quite the same way.
About the Author:
Eve Kenneally is a second-year poet from outside Boston by way of DC, where she got a BA in English from GWU and minored in creative writing/avoiding drunken conversations about the state of the government. Right now, she writes a lot about mermaids, dead girls, and pop culture. She likes poems that are strange and surprising (a less eloquent way of saying this is, "She likes poems that make her feel like she's been punched in the stomach") so send 'em away.