In yet another novel set in the nineteenth century (it wasn’t planned, just how my TBR list has fallen since the new year), I’ve just read The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue. What a great book this is – and how it’s staying with me since I’ve finished it – I keep thinking about the characters, about what happened and what will happen to the characters in their future.
Lib Wright (Mrs Lib) is a Nightingale nurse, hired to watch over Anna O’Donnell in the Irish midlands just a few short years after the famine has ravaged Ireland. Anna herself is ‘The Wonder’, a child of 11 (who looks more like she’s 7 or 8) who reportedly hasn’t eaten for 4 months. Lib and her fellow watcher, Sister Michael, observe Anna closely during their shifts and Lib gradually realises that all is not as it seems. However, she needs to convince the committee who has hired her of what is actually going on.
This is a novel with a sense of place – the descriptions of Anna’s home, the claustrophobia and sense of rising alarm Lib feels is well portrayed. It’s also a novel which completely overturned my initial feelings. Lib’s acerbic throughout, but increasingly I became sympathetic to her views. I expected Anna to be a sap, but instead she’s a ‘delightful, dying child’. Like my last post on The Crow Garden, this novel is also set at a crossroads between science, logic and modern times (not least how women were treated at this time), and the mysticism of old religion.
Reading a book mostly set in a darkened room about a starving child should be depressing and awful, but this book isn’t. It’s got humour, hope and is ultimately enlightening. Read it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.