The Wonder
By Emma Donoghue
Pan MacMillan

 

At the heart of Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder is Anna O’Donnell, an 11-year-old girl who hasn’t eaten for roughly four months. The explanations veer from the physical to the sacred, the medical to the downright mysterious. Set in an Irish village around the 1850s (and loosely inspired, like Donoghue’s bestseller Room , by real events), The Wonder is narrated by Elizabeth (“Lib”) Wright, an English nurse and protégée of Florence Nightingale, no less. Wright enables Donoghue to shape the book’s great thematic divides: belief, nationality, politics, economics and gender follow in short order. The genial but slightly haughty Wright is a materialist and religious sceptic who would make Richard Dawkins proud. Contending with her scientific uncertainty is the village itself. Personified by a cadre of male powerbrokers, it is deeply invested in Anna proving, or at least appearing, a bona-fide miracle. Nowhere is the culture clash more intense than when Wright crosses swords with the village’s inaccurate doctor, its priest and Anna’s sharp-witted mother. The Wonder is a novel, aptly, about faith and doubt, truth and illusion. That Donoghue blurs these lines without losing sight of her all-too human story is impressive indeed.