The Wonder by Emma Donoghue immersed me into another world, an almost claustophobic closed society, reduced to one room, one patient, and little outside interaction.
An English nurse trained under Florence Nightengale during the Crimean War, Lib is hired for an unusual two week position in a poor Irish village. The village still bears the scars of the potato famine, windowless and deserted cottages ovegrown with vegetation, hungry women and children huddled in the rain.
Lib's scientific training is to be utilized in objective observation of eleven-year-old Anna who stopped eating on her last birthday four months previous. A committee has hired Lib and a nun to watch Anna every minute, in shifts, to verify that the child truly has not been eating.
The villagers are ardent Roman Catholics who along with their prayers and rosary continue to adher to local folklore, setting out saucers of milk for the wee folk. Anna's physician hopes he is watching a new level of human evolution that portends the end of starvation and war. Others believe they are watching a miracle. Very few recognize the signs of starvation.
Lib doubts what she is seeing, knows the girl must be participating in a hoax. An unbeliever, Lib distains the pious Catholicism of Anna and her community. As Lib watches Anna decline in bodily health she comes to see the girl's deep intelligence and learns that the child is willing to die if it means she can save her deceased brother from purgatory.
Good nurses follow rules, but the best know when to break them Lib decides, and with the help of
Byrne, a newsman lured by a story, she decides to break all the rules she has been taught, becoming personally involved with Anna and altering her fate. To do nothing is the deadliest sin, Byrne had told her.
This is the first time I have read Donoghue. It is a masterfully crafted novel. The novel has subtle details that place it in time. The Crimea War and Great Potato Famine are recently past. Lib reads Charles Dicken's magazine All the Year Round and George Eliot's Adam Bede. Byrne's history as a journalist reminds that while Ireland starved Parliment stood silent. Lib is allowed to slowly grow in her understanding of what she is observing, struggling with issues of faith and the nature of her professional role. Perhaps the ending is too neat, but it is gratifying wishfullfillment. We come to admire Lib and Anna captures our hearts.
The story was inspired by the stories of Fasting Girls over the centuries.
I received a free ebook from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
Little, Brown, and Company
Publication Date: Sept 20, 2016
$27 hard cover