In Emma Donoghue’s latest work of genius, we meet Lib Wright, a proper young British nurse trained by Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War, who has been hired to simply observe Anna O’Donnell, a sweet, young Irish girl who claims not to have eaten food nor consumed liquids for more than four months. Her family and their poor Irish Catholic community have become widely known because of Anna’s fast and the town’s leaders have hired Lib and a Catholic nun to stay with her for two weeks to verify that she is actually not eating or sneaking food. Lib is sure of many things even before she arrives in the small farming village, including her conviction that the family is lying in order to scam the religious pilgrims who believe in this so-called miracle and are flocking to pay homage and receive Anna’s blessing. As Lib observes Anna, however, she becomes increasingly concerned for her well-being as the girl’s health deteriorates and tries to raise the alarm before the child dies. The conflicts between modern science and blind faith are at the heart of this novel and as Anna gets sicker, I became more anxious to see how it would all end.
Inspired by more than fifty real-life ‘fasting girls’ from Victorian era Ireland, Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder carried me into the Irish countryside where I could almost smell the turf burning inside the small close cottage the family shared with their animals. Donoghue, who grew up in Ireland, vividly depicts Lib’s British scorn for the ‘backward’ Irish as well as the traditional Irish Catholic faith which pervaded every aspect of the lives of its believers. This would be an excellent book for a lively discussion and for readers of suspenseful historical fiction. Highly recommended.
Watch The Wonder‘s book trailer on YouTube!