The emotionally-charged writing in Emma Donoghue‘s most disturbing yet captivating story, The Wonder, is powerful.
Set in 19th century Ireland, a nurse trained by the legendary Florence Nightingale is called upon to observe a young girl who is said to possess miraculous powers bestowed to her by God. Her ability to seemingly go months without taking even a single bite of food has confounded the locals.
An uptight Englishwoman with a high sense of entitlement, Lib Wright arrives at the impoverished home of this girl who is deemed a miracle and is determined to prove that their claim is completely false. Stuck in her beliefs that the Irish are infinitely inferior to the English, she clashes with the family and other members of this tight-knit community almost immediately. There is a lot of insight provided on the conflicts between the English and Irish, a theme that is revisited constantly throughout the novel, and something that I personally found compelling.
Lib isn’t exactly a likable character. Her snobbery is her most defining trait throughout most of the novel, and she came off to me as simply an unpleasant person. I kept trying to like her since she is a rather independent woman and has been through her own share of hardships, but it was difficult.
But I maintain that just because she wasn’t good-natured doesn’t mean she was a rotten character. All of the characters presented in this book, not just Lib, are flawed. They were human. Even though the premise of this book seems far-fetched — with a girl able to stay alive not by food but by the grace of God — these characters helped make it more realistic. I read this book like I was reading about an event that actually happened in real life.
This story doesn’t brand itself as being very fast-paced. In fact, this story takes its sweet time to develop and grow, so I can understand how some readers might get frustrated with the lack of action that is present from time to time. Personally, however, I thought that the slow pace Donoghue adopts in her novel was perfect for the story unfolding within it. The suspense builds so gradually that you don’t even realize that it’s actually happening until you are manically flipping through pages because you are desperate to find out what happens next. This quiet construction of suspense is part of what makes The Wonder so beautiful.
But don’t be fooled by the leisurely progression; this book has its fair share of twists but when the big reveal finally happened, I still found myself in a state of shock. (I did not see the eventual ending coming at all!) In my opinion, Donoghue definitely knows how to keep her readers on their toes.
Overall, I felt this book was completely unique in the sense that I haven’t read anything like it before. I definitely felt like I was sucked into another world while I was devouring the pages, which I believe is the hallmark of a great read. If you are looking for something different and on the strange side, I suggest you make The Wonder your next read.