Author Emma Donoghue of London, Ont., was able to "stride proudly to the bakery" Tuesday morning after hearing that her seventh novel, Room, had just been elevated from the long to the short list of finalists for the Man Booker Prize, one of the world's leading literary awards. "If I hadn't been on the short list, I would have had to stay home this week, because I couldn't stand all the little nods of sympathy," she said.
Until this summer, Donoghue was much better known in her native Ireland and the real London than in the quiet Canadian town where she has lived since emigrating in 1998. But the growing transatlantic drumbeat attending Room - beginning with a seven-figure advance, followed by brisk sales in Britain and now the Booker nod - have made her an instant Canadian celebrity.
"I'm happy to be claimed by both my homelands," said Donoghue, who received Canadian citizenship in 2004. "I've been in Canada 12 years now, and even though I still sound Irish, I think there's been a great influence on me."
Perhaps the greatest influence was the birth of her two unhyphenated Canadian children: Finn, 10, and Una, 6, whom Donoghue is raising with her female partner, Chris Roulston, a professor of French and women's studies at the University of Western Ontario. The experience led the author directly to Room, an examination of parental love from the viewpoint of a five-year-old child born and raised in a tiny, windowless cell where he and his mother have been held captive by a shadowy monster.
If nothing else, the Booker nomination will help potential readers understand that Room is no "trashy thriller," Donoghue said. "It reassures people immediately that this is a work of literature," she said. "And the timing couldn't be better for me in terms of its publication in Canada and the States."
Before the book was written, Donoghue described her healthy advance as "mortifyingly large." But she is gleefully immodest about its nomination. "It means a great deal to me," she said. "I'm not at all snobby about book prizes and how they pollute the world of literature. Just like with the Olympics, a little bit of competition gets people truly engrossed in the business of literature. So I think it's all a great thing, no matter who wins."
Whether it wins or loses next month when the Booker is awarded, Room is almost certain to become a favourite to win this year's Scotiabank Giller Prize, for which Donoghue is eligible as a dual citizen of Canada and Ireland. Her previous novel, The Sealed Letter, was long-listed for the 2008 Giller.
But the Booker nomination is something else again, both in terms of fame and potential sales. "I suspect this is the peak of my professional career, so I might as well enjoy it," Donoghue said, discounting her chances of her winning despite favourable odds recently posted by British bookmakers.
"The important thing is we have a nanny set up so that Chris and I can go over to the Booker party," she said.
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