Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

291 Pages
Publisher: Picador
Book Club Read


Lib Wright, a young English nurse, arrives in an impoverished Irish village on a strange mission. Eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell is said to have eaten nothing for months but appears to be thriving miraculously. With tourists thronging to see the child, and the press sowing doubt, the baffled community looks to an outsider to bring the facts to lights. Lib's job is simple: to watch the girl and uncover the truth.

An educated sceptic, trained by the legendary Florence Nightingale and repelled by what she sees as ignorance and superstition, Lib expects to expose the fast as a hoax right away. But as she gets to know the girl, over the long days they spend together, Lib becomes more and more unsure. Is Anna a fraud, or a 'living wonder'? Or is something more sinister unfolding right before Lib's eyes, a tragedy in which she herself is playing a part?

Written with all the propulsive tension that transported readers of Room, The Wonder is a haunting psychological thriller about the lengths we go to for the love of a child.


Ugh. I don’t really want to write this review. Then again, for the longest time I didn’t really want to finish reading the book either. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I did make it to the end of the story, but since I spent most of my time while reading The Wonder, raging against both the characters and the story they were in, this was a case of better late than never as far as redeeming this book was concerned.

Set in the second half of the nineteenth century, this story deals with an eleven year old girl in rural Ireland who is supposed to have been fasting for four months without wasting away, never mind dying. Enter Lib Wright, an English nurse trained by Florence Nightingale, who is hired to watch the girl. Mind you, only to watch her without interfering.

And that’s where we encounter my first problem; I really didn’t like Lib and can’t say that improved a lot while reading the story. She came across as opinionated and rather full of herself. While I can’t deny that the attitudes she encountered in Ireland were infuriating at best, I couldn’t stand her air of superiority.

While the story is written as a thriller and what is really going on and why isn’t revealed until the end of the story, it didn’t really read like one. I got too caught up in the fact that this little innocent girl was being allowed to die while the grownups in her life not only stood idly by but also actively encouraged her for the most part, to be overly concerned with why it was happening.

Having said all of the above I have to admit that this was a very well written book. For me to get as upset with a story as I did while reading The Wonder, I have to be drawn into it, feel some sort of connection to the story and the characters. And that’s exactly what happened. While it is true that virtually every single character portrayed in this book got my blood boiling; that could only happen because they were described so clearly that I believed in them. As unimaginable as the events in this story were, the way they were described convinced me of their reality and fuelled my anger.

Without wanting to give anything away I will also admit that the way the story ended went some way towards redeeming it. Except that I wasn’t completely convinced by all of it. This story was too focussed on the fasting drama for the romance part of it to be believable. Lib and her man (and yes, I’m being purposely vague) just didn’t spent enough time together on these pages for me to believe they could have developed feelings for each other, never mind take the risks they did.

If this book achieved anything it was to once again remind me not only of the nonsensical nature of religion but also of all the dangers connected to blind faith. Part of me wants to say that the story is a reflection of the time it’s set in, that people were more innocent then, easier to persuade, more likely to believe without question. In fact, that’s what made it possible for me to keep on reading. I kept on reminding myself that I was reading a historical novel describing an age in which people just didn’t know everything we accept as common knowledge now. But unfortunately I know that’s not true. Religion is still the root of a lot of evil and superstition still seduces too many people to look for answers and solutions — miracles even — were non can be found — more often than not to their own detriment. Just as there will always be those who’ll take advantage of people’s desperation and willingness to believe.

Once again my book club read leaves me in a quandary when it comes to my rating. Because the writing was almost flawless and because the story certainly managed to raise emotions in me — even if those were predominately negative — I think I’ll settle for

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