The fascinating characters that roam across the pages of Emma Donoghue’s stories have all gone astray: they are emigrants, runaways, drifters, lovers old and new. They are gold miners and counterfeiters, attorneys and slaves. They cross other borders too: those of race, law, sex, and sanity. They travel for love or money, incognito or under duress.
With rich historical detail, the celebrated author of Room takes us from puritan Massachusetts to revolutionary New Jersey, antebellum Louisiana to the Toronto highway, lighting up four centuries of wanderings that have profound echoes in the present. Astray offers us a surprising and moving history for restless times.
About Emma Donoghue
Born in Dublin in 1969, Emma Donoghue is an Irish emigrant twice over: she spent eight years in Cambridge, England, doing a PhD in eighteenth-century literature before moving to London, Ontario, where she lives with her partner and their two children. She also migrates between genres, writing literary history, biography, and stage and radio plays, as well as fairy tales and short stories. She is best known for her novels, which range from the historical (Slammerkin, Life Mask, The Sealed Letter) to the contemporary (Stir-Fry, Hood, Landing). Her international bestseller Room was a New York TimesBest Book of 2010 and a finalist for the Man Booker, Commonwealth, and Orange Prizes. “The Hunt” (from Astray) has been short-listed for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award, the world’s most valuable short story prize.
It’s characteristic of the restless Donoghue to follow up a terrifying contemporary thriller and international best-seller (Room, 2010, etc.) with a collection of historical fiction. Past and present have held equal sway over her imagination in previous work, and three story collections have showcased her abundant gifts as aptly as her seven novels. This book demonstrates once again that there’s little she can’t do well; indeed, the afterword is as moving as the stories. Donoghue offers her own biography—Irish-born, Cambridge-educated, longtime resident in Canada—to explain her fascination with other wanderers trying to invent new lives for themselves. She can empathize with a Victorian Londoner forced into prostitution (“Onward”) as well as with a buccaneering cheat who fraudulently obtains her husband’s fortune and skips out of 18th-century New York (“The Widow’s Cruse”). The gruff friendship-with-benefits of two gold prospectors in the Yukon (“Snowblind”) is portrayed as tenderly as the marriage of two refugees from the Irish potato famine, thwarted of their reunion in Canada (“Counting the Days”). The collection’s most wrenching tale, “The Gift,” achieves the remarkable feat of bringing alive both the agony of a woman driven by poverty to give up her baby and the quiet dignity of the girl’s adoptive father—in an exchange of letters, no less. Donoghue views her characters with determined generosity, even when their behavior is reprehensible: The first-person narratives of a vengeful Puritan settler in Cape Cod (“The Lost Seed”) and a thoughtless white girl on a Louisiana plantation (“Vanitas”) trace complicated motives and a desperation for love of which the protagonists may not even be aware. The short story can be a precious, self-enclosed form, but in Donoghue’s bold hands, it crosses continents and centuries to claim kinship with many kinds of people. – Kirkus Reviews
History Inspired Travel Tales Of Donoghue’s ‘Astray’
NPR Book Review – October 26, 2012 (Excerpt)
A young mother sets sail from Ireland after the potato famine to meet her husband in Canada; two gold prospectors seek their fortune in the frozen Yukon; a slave poisons his master and the master’s wife escapes with him.
These tales of characters on the move come from a new book of short stories by the Irish writer Emma Donoghue, whose last book, the international best-selling novel Room, was a huge success. The new collection is calledAstray. Donoghue joins NPR’s Melissa Block to discuss her real-life inspiration and the challenges of writing a novel versus a short story collection. [Read the full article...]
Book review: ‘Astray,’ by Emma Donoghue, author of ‘Room’
The Washington Post Book Review – October 29, 2012 (Excerpt)
The historical short stories in Emma Donoghue’s new collection, “Astray,” wander across centuries and continents, but they actually don’t stray far from this Irish-born writer’s preoccupations with captivity, sexual predation, prostitution and the grip of parenting. Donoghue is best known for her previous book, the heart-stopping novel, “Room,” about a young woman who gives birth and raises a small son while held captive in a bunker for seven years by a rapist. Readers looking for the visceral power of “Room” will find tastes of it, but in small, snack-size packages.
All 14 stories concern some sort of wanderer: a wife fleeing the Irish famine to join her suffering husband in Toronto; a black slave and his white “Missus” bolting from the nasty “Marse” in Civil War Texas; prospectors who strike an unexpected vein of mutual comfort (with faint echoes of “Brokeback Mountain”) in the snowbound Yukon goldfields; Chicago counterfeiters who hatch a harebrained plot to ransom Lincoln’s exhumed body for a jailed colleague’s release; and a lesbian couple losing each other to dementia after nearly six decades of living and making sculpture together in Toronto. [Read the full article...]
Far From Home - ‘Astray,’ by Emma Donoghue
The New York Times Book Review – November 2, 2012 (Excerpt)
Emma Donoghue, born in Ireland in 1969, is twice an emigrant, having moved first to England and then to Canada to raise a family. Sometimes, she writes, when the plane begins its descent above London, Ontario, her adopted city, “I find myself troubled by confusion, which gives way to a sense of arbitrariness. Why am I landing here, out of all possible spots on the turning globe? . . . If your ethical compass is formed by the place you grow up, which way will its needle swing when you’re far from home?
Donoghue’s new story collection, “Astray,” explores the theme of emigration through the use of historical documents and personal letters Donoghue has unearthed over the last decade and more. The type of historical fiction in which an author takes actual people (conveniently dead!) and puts thoughts into their heads and words into their mouths can seem presumptuous, especially when the author is less intelligent and interesting than the person whose thoughts he is trying to imagine. This is not the case with Donoghue: her work (as she proved most recently in her hugely successful novel,“Room”) is sensitive and intuitive, and her narrative voice moves fearlessly between centuries and between genders. [Read the full article...]
QUEEN OF MISFORTUNE A Lady Jane Grey Novel by Peter Carroll
A Love Story of Shakespearean Dimension!
Queen Of Misfortune is the fictional story of Lady Jane Grey as told by her beloved tutor, John Aylmer. At the time of her execution a stranger is recorded to have assisted her when, blind folded, she lost her way upon the scaffold. Was it the same strange who was also recorded to have visited her when she was imprisoned in the Tower? Little is known of this unfortunate girl who was beheaded for treason in the 16th Century. She was only 16. She is omitted from the list of monarchs but was actually queen for nine days. Author Peter Carroll, in his novel, follows John Aylmer’s close relationship with Jane as her tutor and later, as she grows up, her lover. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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