Thursday, 8 September 2016

Book Review: THE WONDER by Emma Donoghue

The Wonder

Title: The Wonder
Author: Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Read: September 2016
Expected publication: 20 September 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

In Emma Donoghue's latest masterpiece, an English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle-a girl said to have survived without food for months-soon finds herself fighting to save the child's life.

Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale's Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.

Written with all the propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller, THE WONDER works beautifully on many levels--a tale of two strangers who transform each other's lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil. 

My thoughts:

Lib Wright, an English nurse who trained and served in the Crimea under Florence Nightingale herself, doesn’t realise what exactly she’s letting herself in for when she accepts a posting to a remote Irish village to investigate the claim of an 11-year-old Irish girl being able to survive without food. Apparently little Anna O’Donnell has been able to live without eating anything for the last 4 months, surviving by the grace of God alone, or as Anna calls it, her “manna from heaven”. Religious folk from all over the world are flocking to the remote village of Athlone to catch a glimpse of this “miracle” child, believing she has the power to heal them of their ailments. There is even talk she may be hailed one of Ireland’s new saints. Fully prepared to expose the girl and her family as frauds, and their claims as a way to make money, Lib and an Irish nun commence alternating eight hourly shifts in their charge’s modest home to make sure that she is indeed receiving no food. But what was supposed to be an easy assignment soon turns into an emotional roller-coaster ride as Lib realises the full extent of little Anna’s resolve to refuse food – and her reasons for it. Torn between her duty and her heart she must fall back on her intellect and training to do what is right, even if it means sacrificing everything she has worked so hard for ...

I loved this book! Donoghue does such an excellent job at bringing her characters and the setting to life that reading The Wonder felt like time travel, and I was so totally and utterly absorbed in its pages that I could not put the book down. What starts off as a gently and rather straight-forward tale soon throws the reader into a world where superstitions reign, where religion has such a strong hold on people that they even accept the demise of their most loved ones as “God’s will”. A world, where intelligent strong women like Lib are frowned upon, whilst men who value their own ego more than common sense get to make all the decisions. I loved the way Lib slowly grows as a character, changing from an emotionally cold and remote personality to a strong, determined woman fighting for her patient’s rights in the face of adversity. As a nurse myself I very much enjoyed the character of Lib, reflecting on how the profession of nursing has changed over the years but that in our hearts we are all in it for the same reasons – to fight for the nest possible outcome for our patients, which often brings us into a conflict between duty and ethics.

With its remote and somewhat claustrophobic setting Donoghue creates an aura of mystery and suspense as the story unfolds and casts its spell upon the reader.  Donoghue’s eye for historical detail is reflected in the astute way she explores the hold religion has on the poor in the aftermath of Ireland’s catastrophic potato famine – presented in a way which shows both sides, through the eyes of fervently religious Anna and Lib’s fierce intelligence and scepticism.  As a reader you can feel the conflict in every pore as the story takes us to its inevitable finale. I loved the ending, which brought tears to my eyes – but no spoilers from me!

I applaud Donoghue for her latest novel, which is definitely one of my favourite reads for the year and would make a wonderful bookclub read – I loved it much more than her previous bestseller Room. Very highly recommended, a full 5 stars from me.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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