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Book Club Reflection: The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits by Emma Donoghue

15 Jun

My book club met via Zoom to talk about our last book, The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits by Emma Donoghue. If you read my review, you’ll know I wasn’t the biggest fan of this book, but I find those books make for the best book discussions.

Donoghue was born in Dublin and moved to England before settling in Ontario, Canada. Her stories settings reflect her Irish and English periods. Many of her other work has a strong subtext of LGBT characters in history, discussing how they lived and how their sexuality was repressed by society. We see this in the short story, How a Lady Dies, in this collection. We also wondered if the sisters in Salvage may have been lesbians.

Most of us liked the story Dido. I don’t think it’s by chance that it was one of the longer stories! There’s a 2013 movie based on the same historical figure called Belle. We all felt like Dido’s story could have been a full novel and it looks like a screenwriter agreed in their own way. We felt it spoke to us a bit more in light of the current #BlackLivesMatter movement in the USA. It was one of Donoghue’s stories that spoke to us a lot about current events despite the historical setting. Her uncle knew the discrimination and racism she would face outside their home but Dido was unaware.

Another story that seemed to speak to our times was Ballad, about the Black Plague. The way the people acted to prevent them from getting the plague reminded us of the current COVID crisis. The woman who boiled coins before she’d touch them spoke to us specifically. We may have thought that was overkill before, but it seems very logical now.

We had surprising little to say about the title story, The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits. We felt sorry for her. It was no wonder she got so sick with how the scheme was conducted. Having a rabbit shoved inside you is not the least bit sanitary! We found it odd as well that she’d give birth on command and for shows. That made it even more unbelievable.

The story Account was a fun one to read. It used a very unusual story format that we hadn’t seen before. Nonetheless, it built tension and had a complete arc to it. It was one of few we recommended to a reader who hadn’t finished the book.

Overall, these stories felt rather staccato. They would build tension and drama but didn’t always feel like a complete story. It wasn’t until you read the note that explained the broader context that the story made any sense. The librarian who sponsors our group said she could see the desire to write like this. In doing research as part of her job, she’d often come upon snippets of information and want to expand on it and learn more but didn’t have an outlet for it.

The collection did show a wide range of Donoghue. There was a large variety of stories she was able to tell and capture many different narrators’ voices well in the process. Many of her stories spoke about historical women and how they had no voice in history. Many had no power to change their stations but did what they could with the lot in life they’d been handed.

It looks like we’ll have one more Zoom meeting at least before we return to in-person meetings. I miss seeing these readers in person so I’ll look forward to the day we can all be together again.

Until next time, write on.

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