I absolutely loved Emma Donoghue’s Room. It was intense, powerful and left me so filled with emotion that I didn’t know what to do with myself. Well, her latest novel, The Wonder, doesn’t quite do that, but I honestly didn’t want it to. I didn’t want a rehash or a replay. I wanted something different and that was exactly what I got.
The Wonder is set in the late 1800s. Lib, an English nurse, has been brought to Ireland to watch over an eleven year old girl, Anna. Since her eleventh birthday, Anna has not been eating. Instead, she has been subsisting on the manna of God. She’s been doing so for months and does not seem to be withering away. In fact, she seems to be thriving.
The local news have reported on her story and religious zealots are coming to visit Anna, calling her miracle, a wonder and a saint. Anna is not uncomfortable with the attention, but the local priest wants to make her sainthood official. He wants to deem Anna holy.
Enter Lib. She and a well-respected nun are tasked with watching Anna 24 hours a day for two weeks in order to prove once and for all that Anna is telling the truth or, as Lib initially suspects, she is a fraud.
Donoghue’s writing is utterly beautiful. Each time I opened the pages of The Wonder, I found myself transported to 1800s Ireland. I saw the open green fields, the stone homes with their earthen floors and the people, thin from years of potato blight, and content to have a miracle in their very own town. It was wonderful.
I am not a very religious person. I went to church when I was younger but have not returned for a very long time. So I found it interesting that I almost wanted Anna’s story to be true. I mean, a girl living off of nothing – that really is a miracle. I was so moved by the story, the people and their faith that they convinced me that Anna really was miraculous. They convinced Lib too.
But, the story takes a darker, more psychological turn when Lib puts her feelings aside and lets medicine and science take the lead. She realises she needs to look at Anna in a wholly scientific manner in order to truly uncover what is going on in this little town and, just like in Room, the story is not what it first seems.
The religious themes of the book had me completely charmed. Emma Donoghue was raised Catholic. I loved that there was a Biblical parable to match every situation. Although I am not religious myself, it was these stories that I loved reading most. They were simple stories of good people doing the right thing at the right time and they fondly made me think of Sunday school. These religious motifs were the most compelling, the most interesting and, actually, the most believable.
The Wonder is not a story of science vs. religion. It’s a tale about people, people who have faced much trauma and have been deeply changed because of it. Donoghue binds these damaged people through their feelings for Anna and the outcome is truly wondrous.