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- ISBN-13: 9780316393874
- ISBN-10: 0316393878
- Publisher: Little Brown and Company
- Publish Date: September 2016
- Page Count: 304
- Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-07-04
- Reviewer: Staff
Donoghue demonstrates her versatility by dabbling in a wide range of literary styles in this latest novel. Set mostly in a small, spare room inside a shabby cabin in rural 1850s Ireland, the closely imagined, intricately drawn story possesses many of the same alluring qualities as her bestseller, Room. Lib, a widow and former nurse, is summoned from London to the peat-smelling village of Athlone for a fortnight to assess whether 11-year-old “living marvel” Anna O’Donnell has truly been able to survive without food for four months. It could be some sort of hoax perpetrated by the girl’s family or the village parish, and Lib confidently assumes that it’ll be an open-and-shut case. But as each day passes and Anna’s health suddenly begins to deteriorate, not only does Lib grow more attached to the earnest girl, but she also becomes convinced that Anna’s reasons for fasting—a recently deceased brother, devotion to God, her parents’ influence—run far deeper than Lib imagined. Inspired by the true cases of nearly 50 “Fasting Girls”—who lived throughout the British Isles, western Europe, and North America between the 16th and 20th centuries and became renowned for living without food for long periods of time—Donoghue’s engrossing novel is loaded with descriptions of period customs and 19th-century Catholic devotional objects and prayers. Even with its tidy ending, the novel asks daring questions about just how far some might go to prove their faith. (Sept.)
Shadowy secrets behind a proclaimed miracle
Is Emma Donoghue cultivating a new genre? Call it “emergency motherhood.” Like her 2010 bestseller, Room, Donoghue’s ninth novel features a woman whose existence is bent around the life, health and happiness of a child whose circumstances are desperate.
The Wonder is set in Catholic Ireland, just after the ravages of the potato famine. Little Anna O’Donnell has survived months without food, leading the townspeople to believe she is a miracle. Due to her fame, the diocese where she and her family live assigns a nurse and a nun to watch her around the clock. The nurse is Lib Wright, a British veteran of the Crimean War who was personally trained by Florence Nightingale. The nun is a shadow of a creature called Sister Michael. Anxiously watching and waiting are Anna’s parents.
Lib, a no-nonsense type, assumes something dodgy is going on. After months of nothing but spoonfuls of water, Anna should be dead. Then, under the eyes of Lib and the nun, Anna does begin to die in earnest. This prompts a battle between Lib and Anna’s mother: In Donoghue’s world, those who haven’t given birth—Lib had a baby who died in infancy—just don’t get it. Virginal Sister Michael and the servant girl are compassionate but befuddled. The men are useless. The conflict can only end in catastrophe. Or maybe, to use Tolkien’s word, a eucatastrophe.
Donoghue’s strength is the fierceness with which she approaches her subject matter, and The Wonder sometimes reaches Exorcist-level intensity as Lib and Mrs. O’Donnell contend over Anna’s body and soul. Suspenseful and compelling, the story will keep readers turning pages.