Hood is not your light reading on the beach, rather a long sitting in bed with a box of tissues and a warm blanket. Emma Donoghue writes a tragically beautiful story about two women who shared a special kind of love –a love that many might not agree with. Pen O’Grady and Cara Wall have spent well over a decade together in conservative Dublin, Ireland, their love expressed only behind closed doors. Cara enjoyed pursuing men and women outside of her relationship with Pen; on one particular trip, she never made it back home due to a fatal car accident. Pen got the painful news on a Sunday evening while at home with Cara’s father in 1992. Pen is left numb as she cannot express her true reactions in the public or to family members due to their secret relationship and society’s disapproval of homosexuality.
Throughout the span of one week, we follow Pen as she tries to cope with the passing of her long-time lover. Donoghue paints an in depth picture of deep loss and profound realizations intertwined with moments of simple comedic relief. Flashbacks of their times together, both the wonderful memories and numerous breakups, help us understand the complexities of Pen and Cara’s romance. Although Pen and Cara had an agreement that they were not monogamous, Pen was always faithful to Cara, at least in the physical sense. I think Pen would have preferred their relationship to be more contained; however, her unyielding love for Cara made their arrangement more bearable.
I am glad that I embraced Hood with an open mind and undivided attention. The story is quite relatable, not only in the aspect of losing a loved one whether it’d be due to a relationship coming to an end or in unforeseeable circumstances, but also dealing with the fear of people not accepting your sexuality. Quite often that fear that keeps us in the closet to shelter us from negative reactions does just the opposite. We become lonelier and find it hard to develop close relationships if we are not fully honest with who we are. Pen is a prime example of this phenomenon as she could not call her mother on the phone following Cara’s passing and share her heartbreak with her.
One particular thought by Pen struck me as unfair in that if Cara was her husband, she would have been given two weeks off of work to grieve the loss of her partner. Regrettably, we live in a heteronormative world; it is heartbreakingly unjust that the love of two women is not appreciated in the same light by many individuals. Pen’s place of work, an Irish convent school for teenagers, upholds traditional views of the Catholic religion and perhaps she would have lost her teaching position if she had revealed her true identity. It is sad that she could not have more time to deal with her loss.
Stories revolving around the death of a loved one gone before their time remind us to treasure our lives and appreciate the moments we share with others. I wonder if Cara and Pen knew their time would be limited with one another, if they would have been open with their family about their partnership. Towards the end of Pen’s difficult week, we left on a hopeful note that things might be okay.
Hood is my second read by Emma Donoghue. I read Room a couple years ago and it remains one of my favorite books to this day. Donoghue has this incredible gift of holding the readers’ heart hostage as we immerse ourselves inside the intricate minds of her characters.