I recently finished reading Emma Donoghue’s novel, The Wonder. It’s a work of historical fiction, set in 19th Century Ireland. The author says the book was ”inspired by almost fifty cases of so-called Fasting Girls — hailed for surviving without food for long periods — in the British Isles, Western Europe, and North America between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries.” And in the case of this story, the reader follows the point of view of an English nurse who is called to Ireland to independently verify the fact that a ten-year-old girl has been surviving without food for four months and counting. I had very little in the way of expectations when I checked it out from the library. Its biggest appeals were that it was available and that it was written by Emma Donoghue (I enjoyed her book Room).
Unfortunately, The Wonder was not anywhere near the level of Room. There were some similar attempts at suspense. And both books have a motherly relationship at the center of the action. However, I found these elements of The Wonder to be nowhere near as compelling or believable.
The supposedly-miraculous girl, Anna, was likable enough. But the nurse, Lib, was downright unlikable for most (if not all) of the book. She was overly suspicious and judgmental of every other character in the book. And while this may have been useful in a literary sense, allowing her to function sort of like the detective in a mystery novel, it was not helpful in having me buy into her perspective. Her late-breaking, tepid redemptive arc, her internal transformation, towards the end of the book was uninspiring. So, even the happiest ending for her was “Meh” for me.
Nevertheless, I don’t feel like the book was a complete waste of time. It held my interest. And I appreciate the way that it alerted me to the historical phenomenon of Fasting Girls. I definitely can’t write off Emma Donoghue as a writer. Still, I might be slow to pick up another book from her unless I get recommendations from others.