The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
Published September 2016 by Picador
My copy: Kindle
An eleven-year-old girl stops eating, but remains miraculously alive and well. A nurse, sent to investigate whether she is a fraud, meets a journalist hungry for a story.
Set in the Irish Midlands in the 1850s, The Wonder – inspired by numerous European and North American cases of ‘fasting girls’ between the sixteenth century and the twentieth – is a psychological thriller about a child’s murder threatening to happen in slow motion before our eyes. Pitting all the seductions of fundamentalism against sense and love, it is a searing examination of what nourishes us, body and soul.
Nurse Lib is uptight, grumpy and cynical – probably not the best person to investigate what many believe to be a Godly miracle – a young girl who hasn’t eaten for four months yet is still alive and well. Faced with a family and wider community who live for nothing but their religion, Lib determines to get to the bottom of what is really going on, because an 11-year-old girl cannot possibly survive on faith alone – can she?
This is a slow-moving novel. There are no huge twists or turns, there are no flashbacks or different points of view. In fact, not a massive amount really happens. Yet I was totally gripped from start to finish. At the start it is very hard to take to Lib, yet given the situation she unwittingly finds herself in it is still hard not to feel sorry for her. You are given a real insight into the lives of these poor, pious people who have nothing but their faith. Lib struggles constantly trying to reason with people but you feel she is fighting a losing battle. Anna’s family are very frustrating – convinced that their daughter is indeed a little miracle, and there are suggestions they might even be making some money off the back of it.
This book is incredibly atmospheric and Donoghue really transports you to 1850s Ireland. The descriptions of the landscape add a sense of desolation to the novel – you really feel as though you are in the middle of nowhere and it adds a certain creepiness to the book.
And then there is Anna, who is not your average 11-year-old, but still loves to fathom Lib’s riddles and collect flowers. I could not put this book down as I was desperate to uncover the mystery at the heart of the novel.
I really loved this book, which I found unsettling and disturbing. The author is quite unflinching in her portrayal of Irish Catholics, and is unapologetic in doing so, which I liked. The ending came as a complete surprise to me as I was sure I knew what was going to happen, but it did work well I felt. I found myself thinking about this book long after I finished it, which can only be a good sign.
I would recommend this one to lovers of historical fiction who don’t need non-stop action and twists and turns to keep them interested!