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Interview: Emma Donoghue, Part One

Life MaskLife Mask is the intimately epic tale of Eliza Farren, a Drury Lane actress; Anne Damer, a female sculptor of some note; and Lord Derby, a liberal politician. It’s magnificent. As she excavates these now-obscure 18th-century figures to weave a scandalous love triangle, Emma Donoghue explores issues of class and gender and desire and civic life in a time of terror. She also crafts a grand entertainment, a delightfully erudite page-turner.

Donoghue is a historian. Her historical fictions are the product of much research, and her novel is rich with detail and all the information the reader needs to fully understand the time and place in which it’s set. But Donoghue is also a masterful storyteller, and her prose is never pedantic. There are a few moments in Life Mask when she uses the phrase “weapons of mass destruction” to draw explicit parallels between the English reaction to the French Revolution and the American government’s current war on terror, but, as she explains in this interview, she did this “to alert the less attentive reader” to the comparison she was making.

Life Mask really lives through its characters. None of them is perfect—theirs is an emotionally and morally complex tale—but each of them is so fully formed, so fully alive, that it’s impossible not to find them sympathetic. I really enjoyed the story of Life Mask, and I was sorry when it was over, but I really missed Eliza, Anne, and Derby for days after I read the last page. It was lovely to be able to talk to Donoghue about them. This interview is the first half of my recent conversation with her. I’ll be publishing the rest Friday, so come back for our discussion of Sapphists and shit jobs. Emma Donoghue Week continues tomorrow with more on her other books.

MORE EMMA DONOGHUE
Interview, Part Two
Archival Interview
Review of Kissing the Witch
Review of Passions Between Women

September 14, 2004 | Permalink

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