In this much earlier novel by Emma Donoghue, there are two big story lines: grief and lesbianism. I'm sure the lesbian aspect of the story might be quite different - or at least I'd hope it would be quite different if the book was written today. The story takes place in 1992 Dublin where the main character, Pen, loses her lover, Cara, to a car crash. Pen has never come out to anyone but a few of Cara's friends. This part of the story is about what it would mean to come out to Cara's father (whom Pen and Cara had been living together with for a few years), to Cara's sister, to some folks at work (she works as a primary teacher in a girls' Catholic school) or to her own mother. This part of the book wasn't that relatable to me, and like I said, I hope that if this story was being told today that much of this would be very different.
The grief plot line, on the other hand, was very relatable. The story takes place over the 5 day period after Cara's death. While going through the early stages of grieving, Pen spends lots of time remembering the past. Totally understandable and completely relatable. What is it like to grieve for a "friend" who is much more than a friend? There were several passages related to grief that really stood out.
'I heard,' she mentioned, 'there was a death in your house.'Know-how? Does know how even help? I've had so many losses in my life over the past several years. In just the past few weeks, I've lost a very dear long-time pen pal, a caring friend from one of my book clubs and a much-loved family friend. And no, it doesn't get easier. And I don't think I've gotten any better. Grief stinks. Losing loved ones stinks. Losing friends way too early stinks.
My face slipped. 'There was,' I said.
'Is it your first, by any chance?'
I blinked at her.
'Your first brush with the whole business?'
Strictly speaking, my father was my first, but I said, 'It is, Sister.'
'Ah,' she said, her breath trailing away. After a second she said, 'You'll get better at it.'
'What, does each one get easier?'
'No, no,' she said, tucking her hands under her habit, 'but you'll have more know-how next time.'
Another passage had me thinking.
It came into my head that everyone on this street had either gone through a loss more or less equivalent to mine, or would do so by the end of their life. Some would have it easier, some worse, some over and over.My guess is that you don't feel a great loss when you don't feel a great connection first. Pen was blessed to feel so connected to Cara. It was a true love. So in that respect, she was lucky. (I should add here that the part of the story that I liked least was Pen and Cara's relationship. Pen was completely monogamous, completely committed to Cara. Cara was... well... she just seemed to me way too high maintenance, way too complicated, way too dramatic, way too loose. And not necessarily in the sexual sense, although there was that, too. The times I wanted to throw my iPad across the room were times where Pen was putting up with Cara's really bad behavior. What kept me reading was reading about Pen's grief.)
After the completion of the novel, before the reader's guide, there was A Conversation with Emma Donoghue.
When you wrote Hood, what were you hoping readers would see in it? And how did you envision readers reacting to Pen and Cara?As far as I'm concerned, Donoghue hit the mark with the grief. And that was enough for me.
I was aiming high: I wanted to write a lesbian romance that readers of all stripes would care about. I hoped that the universality of grief would compensate for the specificity of the lesbian identity, and that Pen and Cara's flawed but persistent relationship would be interesting even to readers who had never lived anything like it.
I gave this book 4 stars on goodreads. Normally that would mean that I'd recommend this book to most. Because some readers might be put off by a lesbian romance and because others prefer not to escape into a book about grief, this for sure isn't a book for everyone. In the end, I'm glad I stuck with it.