There’s much to enjoy in Emma Donoghue’s latest novel, The Wonder. One word of warning: do not make the mistake I did and read the book flap. The person who wrote the book flap should be reprimanded for summarily spoiling a significant plot question in the description. Fear not. I won’t do the same.
You should know going in that the novel is a mystery, of sorts. But unlike the Tana French novel I just finished, there’s nothing gruesome or violent in the mystery. Set in the mid nineteenth century in an Irish village, we follow nurse Lib – Elizabeth – as she is brought in to ‘watch’ a fasting girl, Anna O’Donnell. The O’Donnells, and the entire community, are convinced that Anna can survive without food. Lib, a convert to the religion of Science has been hired by a committee to uncover the secret means that Anna must be eating. So the mystery: how is Anna still alive? What’s in it for the committee? For the family? For Anna?
Woven throughout are challenging questions of religious adherence, Irish-British politics, the role of the press and the way in which each of us continually negotiates not just our values, but our willingness to act according to these values.
It’s a fascinating read, hardly a breakneck plot, but nevertheless entirely absorbing. I’ve had a few requests of late for suggestions for ‘lighter,’ but not fluffy, reading. I’d put The Wonder in this category. It grapples with serious questions by way of a troubling plot and complex characters, but you leave the novel feeling satisfied, rather than unsettled. It’s also a relatively quick read, so if you’re looking for something to pack while doing holiday travelling, it’s a great choice.