…engrossing…there is a touch of
The Crucible, but I was more reminded of William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist. As in that book, each visit to the afflicted child is more terrifying. The difference, both ironic and awful, is that while Regan MacNeil is possessed by a demon, Anna O'Donnell is possessed by the suffocating dogma of the church in which she was raised. In both cases, the reader is introduced to a bright and loving child who is, essentially, being tortured to death. Anna's plight and Lib's efforts to save her (initially reluctant, ultimately frantic) make this book…impossible to put down… The Wonder is…an old-school page turner (I use the phrase without shame). Donoghue's grave consideration of the damage religion can do when it crosses the line into superstition lifts the narrative rather than weighing it down. In that wayas with her sturdy narrative prose, gilded about with the occasional grace-noteit also reminded me of The Razor's Edge, only turned inside out. Maugham's book is about the power of spirituality to heal. Donoghue has written, with crackling intensity, about its power to destroy.
The New York Times Book Review - Stephen King
…fascinating…The book is set in the mid-19th century, but its themesfaith and logic, credulity and understanding, the confused ways people act in the name of duty and belief and loveare 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.
The New York Times - Sarah Lyall
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.)
The Turn of the Screw, the novel opens irresistibly, when a young woman with a troubled past gets an enigmatic posting in a remote place.... Heartbreaking and transcendent and almost religious in itself." Sarah Lyall, New York Times "A fine, fact-based historical novel, an old-school page turner...Donoghue has written, with crackling intensity, about [spirituality's] power to destroy." Stephen King, New York Times Book Review "[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 "THE WONDER by Emma Donoghue is just that: 'a wonder' of a story about religious delusion and self-denial [that] teem[s] with drama and great moral questions.... Donoghue manages to engage larger mysteries of faith, doubt and evil without sacrificing the lyricism of her language or the suspense of her storyline." Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air "Donoghue proves herself endlessly inventive.... This is the kind of book that will keep you up at night and make you smarter."Julie Buntin, Cosmopolitan "Rich hauls of historical research, deeply excavated but lightly borne.... [An] ingenious telling."David Kipen, Wall Street Journal - "All spectacle and gothic horror and inevitably hard to put down." Stassa Edwards, Jezebel "Has that vivid, ripped-from-the-headlines feel that comes from an author's utter fascination with a real-world subject.... THE WONDER is deliciously gothic.... Dark and vivid, with complicated characters, this is a novel that lodges itself deep." Steph Cha, USA Today, 3/4 stars "Fodder for endless book club debates." Meghan O'Gieblyn, Los Angeles Review of Books "A fine work, adept and compelling in voice, plot, and moral complexity.... Donoghue deals out the cards with real skill." Katherine A. Powers, Boston Globe "A locked-room mystery, set in atmospheric 19th-century Ireland and as spare, in its own way, as Room.... A fable as lean and discomfiting as Anna's dwindling body.... Donoghue keeps us riveted to Lib's perspective throughout.... Thanks to the complexity of Donoghue's ideas, there's plenty on which to ruminate." Amy Gentry, Chicago Tribune "Donoghue, a writer of great vitality and generosity-one gets the sense that she would gladly have her characters over for dinner, as long as they'd agree to eat-has been drawn repeatedly to the genre of historical fiction not so much to inhabit or reinterpret the past as to try to fit together its overlooked, missing pieces.... Fiction is small solace for history's grief, but it's one way to set the record straight." Alexandra Schwartz, New Yorker "A blazing historical novel." Marion Winik, Newsday "Donoghue is a master of plot, and her prose is especially exquisite in depicting ambiguity... Lib is a heroine the modern woman can admire." Sarah Begley, Time Magazine "As in "Room," Ms. Donoghue proves a shrewd observer of the parental urge to distort reality to protect children-and themselves" Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal "Donoghue's measured prose is at its best when depicting damaged and failing flesh with extraordinarily vivid economy" Financial Times
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
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.