What I read
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
What it’s about
Set in the mid-1800s, an English nurse, Lib Wright, is called to Ireland to observe 11-year-old Anna, who has gone months without eating. Anna is becoming known as a miracle child, as many of the Irish Catholics around her believe she must be chosen by God to have survived this long without sustenance.
Lib’s task isn’t to care for the girl but to simply watch Anna over a two-week period, exchanging shifts with a nun, to confirm that Anna is not eating. Non-religious Lib believes she will uncover a hoax, but what she ends up uncovering instead results in her trying to save the girl, despite her orders.
Why I picked it up
Donoghue has written many books, but Room was the only one I’d read before The Wonder. Room was hugely successful and was made into a film, which Donoghue herself wrote the screenplay for.
Reading Room was enough to show me what a good writer and storyteller Donoghue is, but I’m not sure it would have been enough to make me pick up The Wonder. However, I knew I would be attending Donoghue’s talk at the Toronto Public Library, and I while I book-browsed one day, I decided to start reading the novel before the event.
What I liked about it
Donoghue does a good job of creating suspense in this book. I read the first 100 pages of The Wonder over a few days, and then the last 190 pages all at once. The plot went in places I didn’t expect, but they were always places that worked well, and my interest kept increasing as I read.
There is a strong sense of setting here, of being inside that room with Lib and Anna. There is a feeling of darkness, a sense of gloominess that comes with well-written gothic tales.
You’ll want to read it if…
The Wonder is a good choice if you like historical novels with a mystery involved. Like Room, this book confronts some difficult subject matter, so it might not be the best choice if you’re looking for something light, but it’s definitely a book that will stay with you after you’ve put it on the shelf.
Food is obviously a main subject in this book, but it’s more about the absence of it. To stay on theme, you could try reading this book with only a few teaspoons of water. But that’s not a reading experience I can recommend. Instead, maybe grab a mug of hot cocoa. It might warm you up if a chill or two runs down your spine.