I finally got round to reading ‘The Wonder’ by Emma Donoghue. These are my thoughts.
The Wonder is a gorgeous book set in Ireland shortly after the potato famine and is named after a young girl in the book who stops eating for four months and claims that she is living from manna from heaven. Her health has not been in decline, hence she was known as a wonder and the protagonist, Lib, a nurse trained by Florence Nightingale, was employed to set watch over her to either confirm the wonder or deny it.
Lib was a headstrong woman, sure that she would discover food within no time and begrudged the girl as silly and deceitful for a while. Her counterpart was a nun whom she suspected her faith in God would make her less honest than herself. Over time, she grew attached to the girl and her strange ways. Her watch became curiosity and it upset her that the girl would not eat. Halfway through her watch, the girl’s health began to deteriorate quickly, suggesting that she was being cheating the fast beforehand but it had stopped, hence thickening the plot. The mystery is what makes this novel so quick to read.
The descriptions were beautiful, reminiscent of Wuthering Heights. The characters were well developed and, interestingly, as a reader you don’t always agree with the protagonist’s judgements of people which is really interesting. The plot was slow but not in a bad way. For me, personally, I, too, was invested in the health of the girl and eagerly read on to unravel the truth.
Religions role in this book was so complicated. The level of faith that Anna and her family have was as new to me as it was to the protagonist herself and brutally portrays just how far people will go in the name of faith. It tells the truth about how much influence religious figures used to have over the poorest people in society and how, disgustingly, they’d rather a child die for a miracle than live. And where is religion without shame? The worries of Anna’s family are clearly so misguided by religion that it was sometimes painful to read. I found this topic especially captivating with the current climate of dangerous ideas seeming to be deluding plenty of peoples’ minds.
I found the myth and fairytale element of the book really interesting, I know so little of the Irish superstitions that it was charming– just enough and not too much! There is enough information to make your own deductions as a reader, allowing you to guess ahead which I love in a book, especially when the protagonist has yet to work the secrets out. It was a great concept and an intriguing exploration into what different people will do for family, both in the actions of Anna’s parents and Lib herself. It’s a tragedy come full circle.
I would recommend The Wonder to just about anyone. It’s a great story that has been beautifully written so I don’t see what there isn’t to love!