Books & Reviews

‘The Wonder’, by Emma Donoghue: Book Review

4 out of 5 stars

Lib, an English nurse who trained under Florence Nightingale, has been sent to rural Ireland to carry out a strange assignment. She has been asked to watch over an eleven-year-old girl, Anna, who claims to have been living without food for months, yet is still healthy.

The ‘miracle child’ has drawn people from all over the country, but not all believe her tales. So Lib and a local nun must take it in turns to watch over her, and see if she is indeed living without food as she claims to be.

Lib is sceptical of the girl’s story from the beginning, but as the days go on she realises that it will be harder to expose her than she thought. The child seems to truly believe that she is living without food, and Lib can’t see how she could be sneaking any food without her knowledge. Is there any way that Anna could be telling the truth?

Emma Donoghue’s debut novel Room took the world by storm, so there was a lot of expectations around it’s follow up. But The Wonder doesn’t disappoint. Set in Ireland in the late 1850s, Donoghue manages to capture post-famine Ireland perfectly. The tense, yet hopeful atmosphere of the small rural village in Athlone pulls you right in and makes you feel like you’re part of the story.

While you are pulled in straight away, this book isn’t a particularly gripping story. The pace is fairly slow, which may not be to everyone’s taste, but it definitely works for The Wonder. Curiosity fuels the story rather than tension. You want to find out if Anna is telling the truth, if she truly has been living without food for months. You’re right there with Lib, knowing logically that there’s no way it could be true, but not being able to figure out how it could be a lie. Even though the pacing is slow, there is suspense built through this curiosity, and you need to keep reading to find out the answer.

One thing I will complain about with this book is that there were not enough chapter breaks in it. It’s hard enough to put the book down as it is. Not having somewhere natural to stop means I lost out on a lot of sleep while reading it.

You don’t just feel Lib’s curiosity as you read The Wonder, you feel a lot of what she’s feeling throughout. You’re just as infuriated as she is when Doctor McBrearty, the local doctor who is part of the committee that hired her, dismisses her worries about Anna. And her disgust at Anna’s family and their seemingly uncaring nature towards their daughter’s situation.

It’s slightly disturbing the way Anna’s family act throughout the book. As far as we know they believe that Anna isn’t eating, yet they have no desire to make her eat, despite Lib pointing out her deteriorating health as the days go on. All they do is pray, trusting in their faith that everything will work out one way or another. Like Lib, I can’t understand this kind of religious fervour. It’s this devotion to, and support of, the Catholic Church that helps make this book so authentic in its setting, and all the more terrifying to read.

The Wonder is a fascinating read fuelled by intrigue, that will keep you hooked until the end.

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