The bestselling-author-turned-Oscar-winner for the film adaptation of her book Room is out with another thriller, The Wonder. The book has already made the shortlist for this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize. The Irish-born, Canadian-based writer goes back “home” in this historical psycho thriller that’s set in 1850s Ireland. Lib, an English nurse is sent to Ireland to care for 11-year-old Anna O’Donnell who hasn’t eaten a morsel in four months. She doesn’t eat, and doesn’t’ die. The nurse needs to find the truth—is it faith or is she a fraud?
The phenomenon of the fasting girls is an interesting jumping-off point. Why did you find inspiration in these real-life tales?
Emma Donoghue: I think the stories of the fasting girls really interested me because on the one hand you can see them as part of the early history of anorexia, but you can also see them as mystics and also as part of the history of freaks. I’ve always been interested in people who put on shows at fairs, those who were culturally marginalized. The fasting girls are hard to explain and define but that’s what makes them so interesting.
How much time do you spend researching your books? Do you like that part just as much as the writing?
ED: I don’t normally keep a count. It wasn’t particularly research-heavy because it’s about a particular time and place. These Irish characters are very much in their small green fields. I needed to research their culture and landscape intensely. But the research gets naughty when you get into theology.
This book is set in Ireland in the 1850s. Did you want to go “home” for this book?
ED: Yes, only because it was so ripe as a background for this story because the Irish really define themselves as having survived the great famine. The idea of a starving Irish peasant goes deep into our psyche. There’s this idea that we were nobody, yet wonderful. And, to rise above that suffering and purvey through all that could be done to you as a nation. It seems to make a complex story between voluntary versus involuntary starvation.
What can readers expect for this book? Would you call it a psychodrama?
ED: It’s a gothic thriller. It has a Victorian atmosphere and is suspenseful. It’s oddly like Room with a different time and place, and different child and women. But there’s an intense relationship between a woman and child, and how a child depends on an adult rising to the occasion.
The star of your last few books is a child. Do you have a connection to childhood? Why the focus on children?
ED: I find children very interesting characters because they’re so vulnerable and sweet. They’re in our possession and adults get to make the decisions, and on the other hand they’re always growing up away from us and won’t be in our hold forever. They have so many strengths as well as weaknesses. I think the adults around children often project their own ideas and interpretations on to them. I like that this novel focused on a child who refused to explain herself.
As a mother, I find it very comforting that they come out into ?? world as they’ll be later. And sure we can mess them up or give them a good environment, but the flavour of their personality is not something we’ve created. In this novel, I wanted to make the girl, who many will think is deluded and sick, realistic and strong. I wanted to show the two sides of her in this bizarre position. She’s a very likeable little girl.
Your novels are often set in confined spaces. Is this technique used to intensify the drama?
ED: It does intensify the drama. In Room, it was an actual locked door. In The Wonder, there’s nothing keeping your child confined, except for being a prisoner of her own mind. There are self-imposed constraints, and how your culture and your community can take away your freedom just as much as any locked door.
You write in so many styles, genres, and eras. Do you like switching it up from book to book?
ED: It means I never get writer’s block. It livens things up. Plus, it’s a challenge. With each genre you have different requirements either technically or with the audiences. I find it fun to find the unwritten rules of each genre and yet express myself freely.
You’ve called London, Ontario home with your partner and two kids. How would you describe life here in Canada?
ED: I’ve been here for 18 years. I usually emphasize what a diverse society Canada is because so many of us are immigrants or the children of immigrants. It makes it quite an easy society for me to feel part of. Compared to Ireland, [where] you have a real feeling of who the Irish are versus who the immigrants are.
What influence has your dad, Irish literary critic Denis Donoghue, had on your writing?
ED: I think growing up with him he contributed to me being a big reader. He was good at suggesting what was going on in books and led me to literary criticism and reading in an analytical way, which has helped me now as an author. But my mom was the one who read to us all the time.
Your next project is a book series for 8-12 year olds. Do your kids give you notes? What’s the book about?
ED: My kids have become real editors. They’re giving me notes all the time. They know it’s going to be a series so they keep telling me what they want to happen.
The book is about a very big family in Toronto with two fathers, two mothers, seven children, five pets and then their grandfather moves in. It’s a big, crazy family story.
What are you reading right now?
ED: I’m mostly catching up on my backlog of magazines, which includes ten New Yorkers and Harper’s.
Enter here for your chance to win 1 of 5 copies of Emma Donoghue's novel The Wonder.
Drop that takeout menu, and walk away from the fast food. These tips will make you an ace at Monday-to-Friday dinner prep.
Set for success
Shop once, eat all week
If it's Sunday and you haven't thought ahead to what you'll have for dinner on Thursday, you're missing out on the world's simplest time-saving tool: meal planning! Write out a list of what you'll need to prep your family's meals for the entire week, and get it all in a single supermarket trip before your busy weekday cycle begins. There's no need to worry about wilted veggies when you have a Bosch refrigerator that is equipped with the special VitaFresh system. It maintains just the right level of humidity and helps keep produce fresh longer.
Call in the troops!
You don't have to handle meal prep alone: enlist your family's help. Even young kids can gather ingredients from the fridge, and Bosch's large-capacity drawers and shelves mean it's highly unlikely the broccoli will have been flattened by a jar of pickles. (Everything in its place!) Plus, the efficient LED lighting system keeps items in clear view without hogging a lot of electricity. Once your ingredients are on the counter, kids can shift to sous-chef mode. Safe tasks for little ones include tearing lettuce, crumbling cheese and whisking dressing. Older kids can peel veggies and stir sauces or brown meat on the stove.
Love your leftovers
Plan to make a double batch of your favourite casserole, soup or stew, allowing you to easily transform leftovers into lunches or use them as a base for tomorrow's dinner. Consider cooking more than one recipe at a time: Bosch stoves have five burners and three oven racks, so you'll have space for it all. Don't your weeknights feel less stressed already?
Label and date all freezer foods so you can know at a glance what you have on hand at all times. This minimizes waste, as you're less likely to buy items you already have, and makes it easier to put dinner on the table efficiently by using up leftovers.
Thaw frozen dishes in the fridge, as opposed to on your kitchen countertop, to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. To avoid freezer burn and keep food at its best, use airtight storage containers or large bags that are designed for the freezer.
To maximize storage space in your freezer, package items like soups and sauces in resealable freezer bags so you can flatten and stack them on top of one another.
Freezer staples—like peas, edamame, corn, bread, ravioli and puff pastry—make weeknight cooking easier. Have these on hand at all times and make a note when one of those items is running low so you never run out.
For more on how Bosch appliances can make prep, cooking and cleanup easier, visit bosch-home.ca.
Conquer your closet with clever tips that will allow you to add to your shoe collection without losing your mind.
1. Sliding drawers
Multiple open-face pull-out drawers help compartmentalize items based on season and style, making it easier to keep folded items in check without them spilling over.
2. Custom order
Install an adjustable closet system that allows for modifications (hanging height, shelving and drawer space) and includes a shoe system.
3. Group therapy
To give your closet an orderly appearance, use one style of hangers. Also, group clothing by category, like colour or style.
4. Reach for the top
Rotate wardrobe staples seasonally and designate top-shelf storage for rarely used or offseason pieces. Use up-to-the-ceiling shelves to maximize space and discourage boxes from pooling on the ground.
How one woman found love with someone who had lost it.
After my husband and I separated, I didn't think I would ever fall in love again. I had two little children and couldn't imagine being in another relationship. I felt unlucky in love, as if perhaps I didn't deserve to be happy. Besides, I hadn't dated in 15 years and, now, didn't know where to begin. But six months after I separated, a mom I'd just met called to ask if I'd be interested in going on a blind date with her friend James*, a single dad who had recently lost his wife to cancer.
By then, every single person I'd met had baggage, including me, so it never occurred to me that dating a widower would be different from dating anyone else. I didn't even really consider the possibility that a first date might lead to a second. But from the get-go, I could tell James was different. The conversation flowed easily, he was funny and interesting…we ended up going on that second date, then a third. When he asked me to date him exclusively a few weeks later, I was ecstatic— but a few months into our relationship, something weird started happening. There were a series of days when, inexplicably, he wasn't himself. He was quiet and sad and didn't want to talk.
I knew what it felt like when a man wasn't interested in me anymore—that's how my marriage had ended. So when he would clam up and be distant, I had a familiar sickening feeling. We met for a drink at a quiet neighbourhood bar, where I cut to the chase. "I'm sorry, James, but I don't know what to do when you won't talk to me. I can't do it," I told him, too sad to drink my wine. I hoped ending things would spare him the trouble of dumping me and spare myself the pain of having yet another person leave me. I was beside myself: I couldn't believe things were ending when everything had been going so well.
Only now, James was ready to talk. "I've mentioned that my wife died two years ago, and I'm sorry for not being able to communicate with you better. Certain days of the year are hard for me, and I've just got through some very difficult back-to-back anniversaries," he explained, his eyes fixed on his lap. "Some days, I don't want to talk, but I'm feeling better again and I don't want you to take it personally. I'm just trying to cope as best I can; it has nothing to do with you. I really like you and I like where this relationship is going."
He looked up into my eyes and stretched his arms across the table. His warm hands enveloped my own. It hadn't occurred to me that he was going through a rough patch; because of my own history, I assumed it was something I had done. I didn't yet know enough about his life or about grief to understand his personality or the dates that would be difficult for him. When he communicated his feelings, I felt as though I understood him, like we were connecting on a deeper level. I realized then that this man was different kinder, deeper, stronger and more compassionate—than anyone else I was likely to meet. As a newly single mother struggling to get back on my feet, I had my own set of issues and insecurities; dating a widower on top of it all wouldn't be easy, but I had fallen in love. I had to try.
My situation isn't as unique as you might think. In 2016, about 1.83 million widowed people were living in Canada, and many of them are finding their way back onto the dating market. According to research conducted by the Pew Research Center in the United States, 19 percent of those who are currently divorced, separated or widowed report using online dating. In fact, Match.com saw an 8.3 percent increase in the proportion of widowed users in Canada from 2015 to 2016.
Rebecca Cooper Traynor, a Toronto matchmaker who founded Match Me Canada, has seen a similar trend. "I'd say that about 10 percent of my clients are widowers," she says; most of them are 55 and older, but some are only in their 30s and 40s. And at the same time as this group has become more interested in dating, she has also seen a shift in perceptions about them. "I've noticed that my other clients are more open to dating a widower now than when I started my business eight years ago," she says. "Some people are tired of dating divorcés and hearing about their anger and resentment on a date. They want to meet someone in a different space, someone who knows how to love."
A delicate balance As in any relationship, James and I have challenges—but some of the things we face are specific to his widowed status. For example, in the five years since we went on our blind date, I've learned to give James space on significant dates, such as on his late wife's birthday, their wedding anniversary and the day she died. Since our near-breakup early on, I've marked those days on my calendar so I can call to say I'm thinking of him and see if I can help. Being in tune with your partner's needs is often the best thing you can do, says Roy Ellis, a grief counsellor with the Nova Scotia Health Authority in Halifax. "Ask your partner what you can do to make those tough days better. Your awareness itself can be a lovely gesture. Maybe you don't need to be involved and you can give your partner the space he or she needs to continue that grief work," he says. "That can be a gift in and of itself."
I've also learned that, contrary to the proverbial "five stages of grief," how we mourn doesn't fit into easy steps. In fact, the psychiatrist who first identified those stages, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, never intended them to apply to the living—her research was on people who were facing their own deaths. In other words, watching for signs of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance is no way to tell whether a mourner is ready to move forward.
Rather, many grief specialists champion the "companioning" philosophy espoused by author, counsellor and educator Alan Wolfelt. They believe that the process is individual and that bereaved people tend to know when they are ready to move forward. According to this model of grief, mourners have six needs that must be met in order to reconcile their loss: acknowledging the reality of the death; embracing the pain of the loss; remembering the person who died; developing a new self-identity; searching for meaning; and receiving ongoing support from others. But this isn't a checklist and there's no time frame for completion, or a particular order in which they must happen.
"The companioning model of bereavement distinguishes between grieving—the internal experiencing of pain—and mourning, which is the outward expression of that pain," says Maureen Theberge, a psychologist at Viewpoint Counselling Psychology in Calgary. "Grief isn't something you 'get over' any more than you 'get over' love, but those who can mourn well will have a better outcome for moving forward. Having a way to remember the dead, to honour and acknowledge them, especially when the mourner has children, can be healing. It's meaningful and may offer comfort."
Finding your way For the first few years, James commemorated special days only with his close family, but recently, I've been invited to participate by attending an annual memorial service and being with his family to remember his wife's birthday. I'm happy to support him in this way, much as he has supported me through my divorce—but the truth is, it can be hard for me emotionally. Sometimes, I'm sad for days afterward. I want to weep thinking about what an unfair loss James, his family and his wife suffered. I can't imagine what it must have felt like for his wife to be diagnosed with a terminal illness as a young adult, to hear she was going to die. But I've come to understand that grieving is a healthy sign. Even if the process hurts, it brings James' family and friends together. I've seen how remembering and celebrating his wife provides them with strength to continue on. We have been companioning without realizing it.
As much as I grieve with James and his family on sad days, I've also had a hard time coping with his loss on great days. It's embarrassing to admit, but sometimes, I've felt guilty for dating James. I've seen his late wife's beautiful photos, can sense how wonderful she was and feel how much she was loved—how much she still is loved. I've dissolved in tears, overwhelmed that James and I are on a romantic vacation together when he should have been with the love of his life, his wife. How was I ever going to fill her shoes? How would I measure up? What if I couldn't?
As difficult as these feelings are, experts say they're normal. Unlike dating a divorcé, Theberge says dating a widower can feel threatening because the person's partner didn't choose to leave; rather, "death tore them apart." Logically, however, jealousy doesn't help. "It's irrational," says Theberge. "You are not in competition with the deceased. Your relationship is new and unique."
Just because those feelings are irrational doesn't make them any less real, and it's important to deal with them, says Ellis. He suggests looking within at why you're feeling insecure. "We are each responsible for our self-esteem and self-love. Take stock, find out what's hurting and share it with your partner, but not in an accusing way," he says.
Overcoming feelings of insecurity isn't easy. As Ellis says, "You have to learn to integrate the presence of the deceased in a new relationship the way you don't in divorce. With divorce, you're out; with death, you've got to come to terms with the fact the other person is still loved and recognized." But while the challenges are different, "it doesn't mean you can't have a successful relationship."
Talk therapy In order to do that, though, you have to communicate. I knew I had to tell James how I was feeling, but it was difficult to have that conversation, to admit my insecurities. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I felt awash with shame. But James was patient and loving and told me his wife wanted him to be happy. Talking to him made me realize I couldn't change his past, but I could have a future with him—and I was helping him move forward, which is what his wife wanted.
Over time, I've grown to believe that we don't have only one soul mate for life. It's possible to love more than one person. When you have a second child, after all, you don't stop loving the first; you make more room in your heart. And now I see that grieving is good, that talking about fears and sadness can be healing. I know not to compare, not to think of myself as an inadequate replacement for the woman he really wanted.
James and I know too well that life can be fleeting. We understand that time is precious. We are taking things slowly—not rushing to combine families or get married—but when I look into his eyes, when I hold his hand on good days and bad, I know we are moving forward together.
Success factors Five tips from the experts for building a healthy relationship with a widower.
1. Communicate, even if it hurts, says Suzanne Farmer, a psychologist (candidate register) at Cornerstone Psychological Services in Halifax. "There will be times when your partner will think about his deceased spouse and miss her; there will be times when you might feel threatened or hurt. You have to be able to communicate these feelings."
2 Be open-hearted and understanding. "Sometimes your partner might experience bursts of grief, and you have to let him be sad and feel his pain. It's normal. It's not a judgment about you," says Calgary-based psychologist Maureen Theberge.
3. See your partner as a whole person. His experience of loving someone and having that person die is just part of his story.
4. Be ready for sudden mood swings. "Sex and emotional intimacy can sometimes trigger upwellings of grief and emotion," says Roy Ellis, a grief counsellor in Halifax. The best way to prepare yourself for the possibility is to have discussions about intimacy in advance.
5. Be open to a new life. "Your partner will never 'get over' the loss— he will be forever changed—but it doesn't mean life can't be beautiful again," says Theberge.
"The little fairies I saw were about, I would say, the size of two-year-olds, that height," says 97-year-old Mary Flynn of Otterbury, N.L. "When I came down the way, I saw a red bandana and it blew across the road. When I looked to see where it went, I saw two little fairies by a tree with bright red windbreakers and little peaked caps."
Whether they're fairy stories, tales of the early settlements or other otherworldly yarns, Newfoundland's long-standing oral traditions have always been a powerful force. But it's the fairy stories, in particular, that are rife on the Rock. Full of wonder and magic yet anchored by the
real world experiences of Newfoundlanders, fairy folklore is as culturally important to the province as any historical building or artifact.
Not your everyday fairy The province's rich fairy folklore traditions originate from the Scottish, Irish and English who brought over their stories when they settled on Newfoundland in the 1600s. These fairies (also known as the Good People or the Little People) are not of the Tinker Bell variety; the creatures come in all sizes and have been glimpsed in the shape of children, adults, glowing lights and even animals. They're mischievous and apt to entrance you, cause trouble and lead you astray. And they definitely
don't have wings.
That most of Newfoundland's fairies are described as troublemakers is somewhat surprising. "The majority of fairies are not good fairies," says Barbara Rieti, who did a PhD thesis in folklore, on the subject of fairies, at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's, N.L., and later authored the book
Strange Terrain: The Fairy World in Newfoundland (ISER Books, Memorial University, 1991). "They play tricks and lead you over the edge or a cliff. They'll change people. Or you'll get a fairy blast when they hit you, and then nasty stuff comes out of the wound, like sticks, balls of wool and fish bones."
Wounds dripping with balls of wool and fish bones (and the obvious entertainment factor in these tales) aside, fairy stories often held deeper meaning. "To me, fairy stories had to do with knowing and not knowing, a very important element in Newfoundland culture," says Rieti. "Because communities were small and isolated but interconnected, knowing someone, knowing who they are and where they come from was important." Fairy stories weren't just about fairies; they were about living through challenges and surviving, be it in the woods, on the water or down the trail.
Nature versus civilization "Fairies aren't so much to be feared as they are to be respected and, where possible, avoided," says Dale Jarvis, intangible cultural heritage development officer for the
Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador. Like Rieti, he believes fairy folklore is deeply connected to the natural world. "In a sense, fairies are nature personified," says Jarvis. "They're neither good nor bad; they don't follow human rules. Fairy stories are, in a way, how we talk about our interaction with the unpredictability of nature."
In many cases, the stories are about regular Newfoundlanders who have incredible things happen to them.
Someone picking berries will hear fairy music, become entranced and lose their way in the woods; days later they will return home, not knowing what happened. If feeling mischievous, fairies might swap a baby for a changeling, a sickly being not entirely human. Fairies may join children for tea on the beach, spirit a loved one away on a horse or place a curse, making a family member mute. Fairies could even take people away and drown them in the sea. Much of the province's fairy folklore exists at the point where the civilized world and nature intersect. "The stories take place at the end of the garden, where people go to pick berries, in the meadow, at the beach, or slightly away from the house-in the border zone between the wild and the tame," says Jarvis.
Charms for protection With potential fairy-wrought disaster always near, there are many traditional charms Newfoundlanders use for protection. Keeping bread in your pockets can ward off the fairies. Or, if you are in danger of being led astray, you can turn an article of clothing inside out, putting you back on the right path (it confuses the fairies and breaks their spell). Money is also a charm. Some locals pin silver coins to their clothing or place coins inside baby carriages. Religious metals have the same effect. "The tricky part," says Jarvis, "is that, for every story you hear and every rule about the fairies, there's another story that says the opposite." It seems that, above all else, Newfoundland fairies are capricious.
In days past, fairy stories may have been used keep children from wandering too far into the woods or into a forbidden area
—an imaginative safety mechanism, if you will. A parent might say, "Don't go too far because the fairies might get you." Other times, fairy stories may have been used to cover or deny a violent incident, such as a beating or a physical or mental illness. It would be common to hear that a community member was "away with the fairies" or "touched by the fairies." Whether to entertain, teach, keep children safe or manage a difficult circumstance, fairy talk has always mingled with Newfoundland's more tangible cultural traditions.
Fairy central Fairy folklore is particularly strong in the Conception Bay area of the
Avalon Peninsula. In Cupids, the first English settlement in Canada, fairy stories have had centuries to take root.
Cupids Legacy Centre, a museum that includes an archaeology field lab and fairy garden, is committed to keeping fairy folklore alive and thriving in the community. "Newfoundland isn't just about historical artifacts," says Peter Laracy, the centre's general manager. "We're also about music, dance, poetry, language and stories. It's the intangible traditions that reflect who we are and what we are."
Laracy firmly believes that the beginnings of Newfoundland culture are based in oral storytelling, which he considers to be the most fundamental form of communication. It's a different level of connection; there's trust between the storyteller and the audience, one in which those listening suspend their normal concept of the world and just believe. He finds that today's Newfoundlanders are still drawn to the otherworldly and inexplicable. "I think people want to let go of the fact that everything has to be explainable," says Laracy. "Listening to and telling fairy stories frees the mind and allows you to believe that anything is possible
—there's a freedom of human expression."
The captivating quality of fairy stories lives most fully in the actual telling. Laracy says a good fairy story and storyteller can evoke emotions such as fear, wonder, awe, sadness and joy. Every year, Cupids Legacy Centre hosts an evening that celebrates fairy culture.
On the rooftop garden, which is decorated with fairy sculptures, the crowd is entertained by a fairy play. Then, the community's renowned storytellers (Mary Flynn being one who has seen fairies on several occasions) tell dramatic fairy stories in a room full of community members and fairy enthusiasts who hang on every word.
The Fairy Ring in Conception Bay North. Photo by Dennis Flynn
Many of the stories recount fairy sightings, strange happenings or talk of fairy paths and fairy ground (the places Newfoundlanders avoid for fear of disturbing the fairies). In the Conception Bay North area, there's an ancient fairy ring, a circle of 13 massive beech trees surrounding barren ground, where fairies have their meetings, of course. Legend has it that nothing will grow on fairy ground. It's a quiet, spooky place, ripe for otherworldly gatherings.
A future for fairies Like the beech trees anchored on fairy ground, fairy folklore has been around for a while, centuries even. Folklorists are often asked if the stories and traditions will eventually die out. Dale Jarvis is adamant in his response. "No, I think we're seeing a revival in fairy stories. People may not believe in them the same way they once did, but there's a growing understanding here in Newfoundland that this is a part of our culture, part of our traditions." Barbara Rieti is of the same mind. "What has surprised me over time is how persistent fairy stories have been. People will say that the tradition is receding, but fairy stories never really recede."
Through fairy stories, Newfoundlanders connect to their history, to each other and to nature. They all have a fairy story to tell
—and it's one likely passed on from generation to generation. The stories themselves are full of delightful drama, adding a distinct cultural flavour that isn't found anywhere else in Canada. And even though the fairies might be, frankly, terrifying, every local enjoys connecting with an audience (of one or 100, it makes no difference) to share a tale. "What I love about fairy stories," says Jarvis, "is that a real person has had this magical experience. These stories are about survival, change, hope and resiliency. And who doesn't want to believe in magic?"