The Wonder

The Wonder

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by Emma Donoghue
     
 

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Shortlisted for the 2016 Giller Prize

In Emma Donoghue's latest masterpiece, an English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle-a girl said to have survived without food for months-soon finds herself fighting to save the child's life.

Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell, who

Overview

Shortlisted for the 2016 Giller Prize

In Emma Donoghue's latest masterpiece, an English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle-a girl said to have survived without food for months-soon finds herself fighting to save the child's life.

Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale's Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.

Written with all the propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller, THE WONDER works beautifully on many levels—a tale of two strangers who transform each other's lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Sarah Lyall
…fascinating…The book is set in the mid-19th century, but its themes—faith and logic, credulity and understanding, the confused ways people act in the name of duty and belief and love—are modern ones. While the wonder of the title refers to many things, at its core it's an examination of the mysteries of reason, responsibility and the heart…Like Ms. Donoghue's best-selling Room, the novel ultimately concerns itself with courage, love and the lengths someone will go to protect a child. Holding Anna tight, Lib knows that "she'd give her the skin off her body if she had to, the bones out of her legs." The feeling is heartbreaking and transcendent and almost religious in itself.
Publishers Weekly
★ 07/04/2016
Donoghue demonstrates her versatility by dabbling in a wide range of literary styles in this latest novel. Set mostly in a small, spare room inside a shabby cabin in rural 1850s Ireland, the closely imagined, intricately drawn story possesses many of the same alluring qualities as her bestseller, Room. Lib, a widow and former nurse, is summoned from London to the peat-smelling village of Athlone for a fortnight to assess whether 11-year-old “living marvel” Anna O’Donnell has truly been able to survive without food for four months. It could be some sort of hoax perpetrated by the girl’s family or the village parish, and Lib confidently assumes that it’ll be an open-and-shut case. But as each day passes and Anna’s health suddenly begins to deteriorate, not only does Lib grow more attached to the earnest girl, but she also becomes convinced that Anna’s reasons for fasting—a recently deceased brother, devotion to God, her parents’ influence—run far deeper than Lib imagined. Inspired by the true cases of nearly 50 “Fasting Girls”—who lived throughout the British Isles, western Europe, and North America between the 16th and 20th centuries and became renowned for living without food for long periods of time—Donoghue’s engrossing novel is loaded with descriptions of period customs and 19th-century Catholic devotional objects and prayers. Even with its tidy ending, the novel asks daring questions about just how far some might go to prove their faith. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"[Donoghue's] contemporary thriller Room made [her] an international bestseller, but this gripping tale offers a welcome reminder that her historical fiction is equally fine."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)"

Outstanding.... Exploring the nature of faith and trust with heartrending intensity, Donoghue's superb novel will leave few unaffected."—Sarah Johnson, Booklist (starred review)"

Donoghue demonstrates her versatility by dabbling in a wide range of literary styles in this latest novel.... The closely imagined, intricately drawn story possesses many of the same alluring qualities as her bestseller, Room. .... Donoghue's engrossing novel is loaded with descriptions of period customs and 19th-century Catholic devotional objects and prayers...[and] asks daring questions about just how far some might go to prove their faith."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)"

Donoghue is known for her bestselling novel, Room.... [But] she is also well versed in historical fiction. THE WONDER brings together the best of all, combining a gracefully tense, young voice with a richly detailed historical setting."—The Millions"

Readers of historical fiction will gravitate to this tale."—Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times"

A riveting allegory about the trickle-down effect of trauma."—Megan O'Grady, Vogue"

Donoghue poses powerful questions about faith and belief all the while crafting a compelling story and an evocative portrait of 19th-century Irish provincial society."Tom Beer, Newsday"

Donoghue's superb thriller will keep readers hanging on to every word, pondering how far one will go to prove her faith."—Liz Loerke, Real Simple"

Gripping."—Claire Stern, InStyle.com"

What at first seems a simple matter becomes far more-stick with it, the payoff is there."—Steph Opitz, Marie Claire"

Fresh and unusually lively historical fiction. [Donoghue's] latest novel brings together both her preoccupation with child peril and her gift for history."Boris Kachka, Vulture"

A haunting novel about good vs. evil."—Brenda Janowitz, PopSugar"

Like [Room], THE WONDER explores a dark, insular, and rigidly controlled environment.... Donoghue's clever use of an outsider as narrator lets her explain anomalies to us-what a creepie is (a log stool) and why people tie rags to a tree (to hold their pain)-as she encounters them herself. But there is more to this mystery than superstitions and local dialect. Lib must decipher the private truths of Anna and her family, who have closed ranks in grief over the loss of a son. She must puzzle out the community itself and its contradictory beliefs in religion, science, and tradition. And Lib has her own sorrowful secrets, her own need for personal redemption. Donoghue deftly pairs the two stories, and as Lib uncovers the truth about Anna, she gradually owns the truth about herself."—Roxana Robinson, O, The Oprah Magazine"

Riveting.... Highly recommended."—Valerie Koehler, Literary Hub

Library Journal
★ 09/01/2016
In August 1859, nurse Lib Wright accepts an unusual assignment: to observe a devout 11-year-old Catholic girl in Athlone, Ireland, who has not eaten in four months and yet remains mostly healthy. Having trained under Florence Nightingale, Lib is ideally equipped to verify whether Anna O'Donnell's fast is a hoax. She initially suspects the child's piety is a scam for attention, but Anna's gentle nature softens the nurse's heart. As Anna's health deteriorates, Lib investigates and discovers that the girl's heart is burdened by a deep shame reinforced by her loved ones' narcissistic pieties, while the medical implications of Anna's fast blind her physician to her alarming decline. Lib resolves to save Anna's life. To do so, however, she may have to commit a murder. The author's depiction of Anna is especially marvelous and her narrative pacing masterly. VERDICT Donoghue's most recent offering is as startlingly rewarding as her celebrated novel Room. Heart-hammering suspense builds as Lib monitors Anna's quickening pulse, making this book's bracing conclusion one of the most satisfying in recent fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 3/14/16.]—John G. Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-06-30
An English nurse confronts Irish history and entrenched prejudices—some of them hers—in this stinging latest from Donoghue (Frog Music, 2014, etc.).Lib Wright has survived the Crimean War and a failed marriage by the time she’s summoned to central Ireland to watch over 11-year-old Anna O’Donnell, whose parents claim she has eaten no food in four months. The girl’s physician, Dr. McBrearty, and a committee of local bigwigs have hired Lib and a nun to provide round-the-clock surveillance. Lib quickly realizes that Dr. McBrearty, at least, is weirdly anxious to prove the girl’s fast is no hoax, even if he deplores loose talk of a miracle. An advocate of the scientific nursing principles preached by Florence Nightingale, Lib has nothing but contempt for such an absurd idea. Yet she is charmed by Anna, as whip-smart as she is pious, and alarmed when the girl’s surprisingly robust health begins to falter shortly after the nurses’ watch begins. Clearly someone has been feeding Anna until now, but it’s also clear she believes she has eaten nothing. Lib’s solution of this riddle says nothing good about provincial Irish society in the mid-19th century, seen through her eyes as sexist, abusive, and riddled with ridiculous superstitions. Irish Times correspondent William Byrne counters with a scathing analysis of the recent potato famine, angrily instructing this blinkered Englishwoman in her nation’s culpability for mass starvation as well as the centuries of repression that have made the Irish a defensive, backward people. Nonetheless, nothing can excuse the wall of denial Lib slams into as she desperately tries to get Anna’s parents and the committee even to acknowledge how sick the child is. The story’s resolution seems like pure wish fulfillment, but vivid, tender scenes between Lib and Anna, coupled with the pleasing romance that springs up between feisty Lib and the appreciative Byrne, will incline most readers to grant Donoghue her tentative happy ending. Her contemporary thriller Room (2010) made the author an international bestseller, but this gripping tale offers a welcome reminder that her historical fiction is equally fine.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316393874
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
09/20/2016
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
539
Product dimensions:
10.00(w) x 13.10(h) x 5.90(d)

Meet the Author

Born in Dublin in 1969, Emma Donoghue is an Irish emigrant twice over: she spent eight years in Cambridge doing a PhD in eighteenth-century literature before moving to London, Ontario, where she lives with her partner and their two children. She also migrates between genres, writing literary history, biography, stage and radio plays as well as fairy tales and short stories. She is best known for her novels, which range from the historical (Frog Music, Slammerkin, Life Mask, Landing, The Sealed Letter) to the contemporary (Stir-Fry, Hood, Landing). Her international bestseller Room was a New York Times Best Book of 2010 and was a finalist for the Man Booker, Commonwealth, and Orange Prizes.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
London, England and Ontario, Canada
Date of Birth:
October 24, 1969
Place of Birth:
Dublin, Ireland
Education:
B.A. in English and French, University College Dublin, 1990; Ph.D. in English, University of Cambridge, 1998
Website:
http://www.emmadonoghue.com

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The Wonder 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
SheTreadsSoftly 6 days ago
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue is very highly recommended historical fiction novel set in rural Ireland, 1859. Lib Wright, a nurse who trained under Florence Nightingale, is hired to travel to Athlone, Ireland. There she is to simply keep watch over eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell. Anna has reportedly not eaten in four months, and yet is supposedly healthy. Lib and another nurse, who happens to be a nun, have been hired by Dr. McBrearty, the family's physician, and a local committee to provide twenty-four hour surveillance of Anna for a period of two weeks. They are to record if Anna is eating or drinking anything without discussing their observations with each other. Clearly they are present to determine if Anna's claim is a hoax or a miracle. It is evident to Lib that Anna, a devout Catholic girl who claims to be living off manna from heaven, is not entirely healthy. It is also clear that the doctor wants to believe Anna is the embodiment of a miracle. Tourists are already coming to the family's cabin to see the Wonder. Lib records Anna's vital statistics and notices that since the nurses arrival, Anna's health is deteriorating. Anna claims she has not eaten, but what could be the logical explanation for her survival for four months and is the presence of the nurses going to mean her death? And why are all the adults in Anna's life willing to let her kill herself by starvation in deference to some idea of piety and reverence? Lib becomes more and more attached to Anna, while at the same time she tries to find a logical answer to the girl's situation. Obviously something is going to have to happen, some break-through is going to have to be made or Anna will die. The inspiration for Donoghue's novel is based on the true cases of nearly 50 "Fasting Girls" from the 16th to the 20th centuries who were from the British Isles, western Europe, and North America. She also includes detailed descriptions of period customs and social behavior of the characters, including the overwhelming prevalence of Catholicism in the daily routine of Anna and the O'Donnell family. Lib must negotiate this unknown culture and decode the words and language they are using. Language and the meaning of words is an essential element in The Wonder. In fact, each chapter opens with a single word, followed by the multiple definitions for the usage of the word. It is obvious that unless the usage of a word is understood by all parties, miscommunications can/will occur. This is an incredibly well-written, compelling novel that will grip you and hold you immersed in the time period and setting until the end. The suspense and the tension deepen slowly, incrementally, and are amplified as the narrative progresses and more information is revealed. There is a claustrophobic atmosphere in the tightly clannish society and the small cottage set in the isolated country side. Anna's behavior is constricted; she is following societal rules above and beyond normal expectations. In sharp contrast, Lib has broken societal rules in her training with Florence Nightingale and her out outspokenness. I loved the ending. Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.
Deb-Krenzer 10 days ago
A very strange concept which after reading the acknowledgements was, unfortunately, based off a true concept that actually was a trend. A little girl of 11 is starving (fasting) allowing herself only to drink several spoonfuls of water a day. She has been doing this for 4 months. And surprisingly, she is still alive and doing fairly well. A miracle or a hoax? Elizabeth (a trainee of Florence Nightingale) and Sister Michael have been called in by a committee to insure that the child is not being fed on the sly. Elizabeth agrees to the job determined to find out who's been feeding the child. What she finds out is jaw dropping. Her techniques are over the top and a bit cumbersome to read through over and over again, but the story soon moves along and is worth reading through the redundancy. There are numerous prayers over and over again. However, the child is quoting these prayers over and over again. I allowed myself to skip over these (sorry) and that made the reading much more pleasant for me. After finishing reading the book, I was glad that I did. Then after reading the acknowledgements, I was definitely glad that I kept with it. That's my opinion, you will have to form your own opinion. However, I think it's worth the time to read and take the time to do so. Thanks Little, Brown and Company and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.