Chris Bohjalian on Emma Donoghue’s Latest

Emma Donoghue serves up more fearless historical fiction

The ‘Room’ author’s ‘Learned by Heart’ follows two girls as they fall in love in early 1800s England

By Chris Bohjalian

Emma Donoghue is among the most fearless contemporary novelists we have: an immensely talented writer who is a great storyteller and, based on her extensive body of work, unafraid of subjects that give her less-courageous peers pause. She is best known for “Room,” a daring novel about a young mother’s desperate attempt to help her 5-year-old son escape the shed in which she and the boy are held captive. The tale is narrated by the child, a narrative decision that was brilliant and brave. I stayed awake reading it on a night flight from Paris to Beirut, unwilling to put the book down and sleep.

But she has also written outstanding historical fiction, such as “The Wonder,” “The Pull of the Stars,” and “Slammerkin,” which is both a terrific book and a fabulous word. (Look it up. You’ll thank me.)

Her latest, “Learned by Heart,” is a fascinating story set at an English girls school in 1805 and — wait for it — what we once called an insane asylum in 1815. It has characters with complex internal lives, insights into the human soul, and a wrenching love story that’s both queer and multiracial. Read the full review at the Washington Post.

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