Saturday 29 April 2017

Irish novelist accused of cashing in on Fritzl horror

Eddie Fitzmaurice

AN Irish writer has been accused of cashing in on the Josef Fritzl case with her novel about the horrific imprisonment of a young mother and her five-year-old son.

Room, by Dublin-born Emma Donoghue, was last month nominated for the 2010 Booker Prize after being sold for €1m in a bidding war between rival publishers in Britain and the US.

The book, which Donoghue admits was inspired by the imprisonment of Fritzl's daughter Elizabeth in the basement of the family home for 24 years, has won almost universally positive reviews with critics describing it as dazzling, profound and beautiful.

But in an outspoken attack, Australian reviewer Kathy Hunt has branded the novel as exploitative and opportunistic, likening it to an Austrian butcher's bid to prosper from the Fritzl case by producing what he called the Fritzl Schnitzel.

Donoghue, who grew up in Mount Merrion, Dublin, but now lives in Canada, says she was driving along a highway shortly after the Fritzl case came to light when the idea for the novel came to her in a flash.

Her research involved the detailed study of other high-profile child kidnapping cases, including Sabine Dardenne, who was held for 80 days by a Belgian paedophile, and Natascha Kampusch, kidnapped in Austria at the age of 10 and held for 12 years.

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Interest from publishers was subsequently boosted by the reappearance last year of Californian schoolgirl Jaycee Lee Dugard, who was snatched in 1991.

Donoghue's victim, a 19-year-old American university student, is kidnapped by a stranger and imprisoned for seven years in a fortified garden shed, where she gives birth to a son.

"If such a story of being born into captivity were told from the child's point of view, I thought, it would not be a horror or sob story, but a journey from one world to another," the writer has said.

But Ms Hunt, writing in The Australian newspaper, said the novel drew heavily on real-life events and questioned the timing of its publication -- only weeks ahead of Ms Kampusch's account of her incarceration. Ms Kampusch has reportedly donated €28,000 from the sale of her book to Elisabeth Fritzl.

Praise for Room has been exceptional, says its publisher.

"From where I sit, however, the exercise is as contrived, exploitative and opportunistic as the [Austrian butcher's] fleeting Fritzl Schnitzel," wrote Ms Hunt.

"As a modern, savvy and sensitive writer, Donoghue has declared her reluctance to engage with the actual horror of kidnap, rape and incarceration . . . [but] simultaneously denying, appropriating and manipulating other people's lives and truths not only raises questions about taste and ethics but compromises a narrative," she added.

Donoghue is best known for her historical novel Slammerkin, a murder story about a prostitute in 18th Century London. She was born in Dublin in 1969, the daughter of the professor of English at UCD, Denis Donoghue, who now teaches in New York.

Publisher Picador paid €224,000 for the book's UK rights -- which include Ireland, Australia and New Zealand -- while Little, Brown in America stumped up €800,000.

Sunday Independent

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