Hoodby Emma Donoghue
It is a strangely hot September in a genteel Dublin suburb, and Pen O'Grady has lost her lover - if she ever really had her to lose. Back in convent school in the late seventies, Pen fell for tall, pale, indecipherable Cara, whose enthralling oddities included mood swings and agoraphobia. Cara was engaged in unrequited love for other people as long as Pen knew her,… See more details below
It is a strangely hot September in a genteel Dublin suburb, and Pen O'Grady has lost her lover - if she ever really had her to lose. Back in convent school in the late seventies, Pen fell for tall, pale, indecipherable Cara, whose enthralling oddities included mood swings and agoraphobia. Cara was engaged in unrequited love for other people as long as Pen knew her, but when nothing else could comfort Cara under the stress of exams, sex did, and the two became "sort of girlfriends." The relationship survived infidelities and boredoms of all sorts over the years until, while returning from one of her many excursions in search of freedom, Cara died in a car accident. Pen's narration covers the week of the funeral and fourteen years of baffling memories. As the novel opens, Cara's older sister, Kate, on whom Pen once had a schoolgirl crush, is flying home from America - where she emigrated as a teen - for the funeral. Kate has been gone for fourteen years, but gradually she and Pen overcome their mutual suspicion and share their interlocking perceptions of family, home, and the fragments of Cara they have left.
Bright, self-assured, dependable Pen O'Grady first meets neurotic, alluring, exasperating Cara while both are in convent school. The two quickly become fast friends and, more gradually, lovers. Donoghue offers a wry, sharply observed portrait of the manner in which the adolescent Pen and Cara come to terms with their sexuality, the mingled fear and exuberance of their discovery, the conflicting pressures to hide and proclaim their love. Their physical passion ("a blur of bliss across the brain") turns out to be the simplest part of the relationship. Cara, restless, romantic, scornful of the more mundane elements of life (Living, Pen says, "seemed to be more of a battle for Cara than anyone I knew") seems driven to wander: She repeatedly breaks off the affair, pursues (sometimes disastrously) other women, yet always eventually returns to the tart but forgiving Pen. She is returning yet again, after a brief fling, when she dies in an accident. The novel is essentially a monologue as, from the perspective of the week in which her lover is buried, Pen, alternately angry or despairing, looks back over their 14-year relationship, reconstructing it, attempting to make some sense of their lives together. Pen ruefully admits that she has always been "solid," dependable, even predictable. But Donoghue does a deft job of catching Pen's wry intelligence and intense romanticism, the deep certainty she has in her identity. She is less successful with Cara, who remains a somewhat enigmatic figure: It's uncertain whether Cara is merely intensely self-absorbed or a generous, tormented figure.
Fortunately, though, it's Pen who dominates this spare, powerful narrative. Her unsparing record of a difficult, intense, vital affair, and her meditations on the nature of desire, are exact and profoundly moving.
- Alyson Publications
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- 5.25(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.81(d)
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Mayday in 1980? heat sealing my fingers together. Why is it the most ordinary images that fall out, when I shuffle the memories? Two girls in a secondhand bookshop, hands sticky with sampled perfumes from an afternoon's Dublin.
Up these four storeys of shelves, time moves more slowly than outside on the quays of the dirty river. One window cuts a slab of sunlight; dust motes twitch through it. I shut my eyes and breathe in. 'Which did I put on my thumb, Cara, do you remember?'
No answer. I stretch my hand towards her over the Irish poetry shelf, as if hitching a lift. 'All I can smell is old books; you have a go. Was it sandalwood?'
Cam emerges from a cartoon, and dips to my hand She wrinkles her nose, which has always reminded me of an 'is less than' sign in algebra.
'Not nice?' I ask.
'Dunno, Pen. Something liquorishy.' Her eyes drift back to the page.
'I hate liquorice.' All I can make out now is vile strawberry on the wrist. I offer my thumb for Cara to smell again, but she has edged down a shelf to Theology. My arm moves in her wake and topples a pyramid of Surprising Summer Salads.
I'm sure to have torn one. I have only ninety-two pence in my drawstring purse, and my belly is cramping. It occurs to me to simply shift my weight on to the ball of my foot and take off like a crazed rhinoceros through the door, Then, being a responsible citizen, even at seventeen, I put my mother's spare handbag down beside the sprawl of books, and kneel. The princess who sorted seeds from sand at least had eloquent ants to help her. All I get are Cara's eyes rolling from the safe distance of the Marxismshelf, and a snigger from some art student over by the window. Luckily the black-lipsticked Goth at the till is engrossed in finding a paper bag for an old atlas; in any other bookshop a saleswoman would be pursing her lips and planting her stiletto heels six inches from my fingers. The tomb of Surprising Summer Salads I build is better ventilated than the original, almost Japanese. I have been neat, no one can make me buy a copy. If it were Astonishing Autumn Appetizers, now, I might consider it
I'm blithering, amn't I?
Cara is over by Aviation pretending not to know me, so I set off downstairs; trying to soften the slap of my feet on the wood. Ragged posters for gigs and therapies paper the winding stairwell; their sellotape fingers flap in my breeze. Between the third and second floors the blood wells and I think I may be going to topple. Familiar clogs hit the steps behind me.
'Cup of coffee?'
Cara doesn't seem to hear, as her shoulders poke past, but when we have come out of the bookshop on to the dazzling quay she says, 'I'm off caffeine. Pen, I thought I told you.'
'Since when?' I shout into a surge of traffic.
I let out my sigh as a yawn. A glass of water and a doughnut?'
'As you wish.'
I pause for a second halfway along the Ha'penny Bridge, to feel it bounce under the weight of feet. I refuse the first and second cafés we pass, as rip-offs. Cara wipes a dark red strand off her eyebrow. 'Pen, you know I've got plenty.'
I'd choke on a bun that cost thirty-five pee.' It sounds like a point of principle, but is based on the ninety-two pence remaining in my purse.
We thread our way through the crowd on College Green in what I hope is a companionable silence. Town is full of twelve-year-olds in limp minis and pedal-pushers; their shoulders are peanut -red, scored with strapmarks. I have often wondered if the Irish consider it ungrateful to use sun block-As we head up Grafton Street the light is like a splash of lemon juice in my face I turn my stiff neck to find Cara, but she is ahead of me. Five yards ahead, in fact, sprinting. How odd. I scan the mass of shoppers for a familiar face, but then I realize that she is not running up to anyone, just running. Her head is down. Her fringed purse is smacking from rib to rib. I stand still and lose her.
When I catch sight of her narrow body hurtling past the flower barrows a great weariness comes over me. It occurs to me, by no means for the first time, to let Cara go. But while that thought is worming its way down the nerves, through the labyrinths of flesh, to reach my feet, they are already flailing a path up the street. When I get past the cluster of tourists around the mandolin player, I grip my handbag under my elbow and gather speed- Cara is nowhere in sight, but I trust that even lanky footballers run out of energy when they've eaten nothing all day and their clogs are heavy.
Exercise is good for cramps, I tell myself, ho ho. It is not so much the pain that worries me as the possibility that I may take a leap too far and leave my reproductive system, steaming gently, on the pavement outside Bewleys Cafe. What was the name of that woman in labour, who, forced to race against a horse for the men of Ulster, gave birth at the winning post and cursed them to suffer the same pains every year?
At the top of Grafton Street I begin to doubt my lung capacity. Motivation falters too; Cara could be halfway to Belfast now for all I care. Then I catch sight of a moving dot halfway along Stephen's Green. I heave a sticky breath and launch myself forward again, swerving round a lamp-post.
My little gold boat is swinging on its chain, its points pricking my throat. Slow down, Cara. 'Caaaahra! Cha-cha-cha!' as the girls at school bawl when we play rounders out the back field. You've made your point, my beloved. I am following, the puppet is still attached to the string.
Excerpted from Hood by Emma Donoghue. Copyright © 1998 by Emma Donoghue. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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