Monday, 21 November 2016

Review: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

Title: The Wonder
Author: Emma Donoghue
Publisher:  Picador
Pages: 291
Genres: Historical Fiction

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, Emma Donoghue's 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.
I'm not sure what to make of this book, it wasn't really what I was expecting. Based on the real phenomena of numerous fasting girls in Europe, between the sixteenth and the twentieth centuries, and were hailed religious miracles who were close to God. The story in The Wonder follows Nightingale nurse, Lib, who is offered a job in the Irish midlands to watch over a child who apparently has not eaten anything in four months. The child, Anna, is locally heralded as a miracle and she claims she is subsisting on manna from heaven. Is she a miracle or is she a fraud? Lib steadfastly believes that it is impossible as she doesn't really believe in God, and thinks that the Catholic faith is ridiculous.

Lib was a very unlikeable character for me. She was extremely judgemental, self-righteous and had a complete disdain for the Irish people which was probably indicative of the time but still, her constant vitriol felt tedious to read at times. The pacing is also excruciatingly slow, which I didn't mind per-se, but at points I just wanted the plot to hurry up and get to the conclusion.

Full of gothic elements, including oppressive weather, creepy doctors, superstitious villagers, I was initially very intrigued by this book. I really loved all of the cultural details of the time period, I found it fascinating how the Catholic faith dominated people's lives and how utterly devoted they were. There are lots of descriptions of old Irish and Catholic customs, plus details of ordinary people's everyday lives. It was atmospheric and well done.

The turning point of the book, when it finally arrived, was pretty underwhelming actually. There is also a very strange, awkward romance that was shoehorned in there and it didn't feel necessary. I also didn't like the ending unfortunately, which was a shame. Overall, it was a pretty average read.

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