The Wonder by Emma Donoghue was my read of choice for my Journey to Seoul. I had started it on the shorter flight from Manchester to Amsterdam, and finished it partway through my 11 hour journey from Amsterdam to Incheon. through
I had heard mixed reviews about this book, but was intrigued by the book’s context. The Wonder was inspired by almost 50 cases of “Fasting Girls” between the 16th and 20th centuries, and is set in 1850’s Ireland. With themes of religion, illusions, and duty throughout, it is quite an engaging read.
Without giving away too much of the plot, the story revolves around the employment of Lib as an observational nurse. She is hired to watch Anna O’Donnell, a young girl who has ‘miraculously’ lived without food for months. Convinced that it is a hoax, and that there are more manipulative reasons behind Anna’s fasting, Lib observes her in shifts (split with a particularly difficult nun) in order to try and establish what is really happening.
While engaging, unfortunately there were elements of the book that were underwhelming. Some of the plot developments were predictable, unfortunately including the big reveal at the end. I was also disappointed that the main character Lib couldn’t solve the ‘medical marvel’ and develop both her own and the other characters without the introduction of a dashing love interest part way through the story. Yes, I understand that the additional pressure of prying journalists might be useful for building the pressure, but that would have been a good enough reason to introduce William Byrne. The relationship lessens the achievements of Lib as she struggles against the all male committee who hired her, argues with the male doctors who over-look her and tries to think logically despite the suffocating dogma of the religiousness she finds herself surrounded by. In a review for The New York Times, Stephen King compares Anna to Regan in the Exorcist. He writes that “the difference, both ironic and awful, is that while Regan MacNeil is possessed by a demon, Anna O’Donnell is possessed by the the church in which she was raised… the reader is introduced to a bright and loving child who is, essentially, being tortured to death.”
While there are flaws, it is a compelling read. And like Lib’s change in temperament and she changes from reluctant to frantic, the reader two becomes more emotionally invested in Anna’s well-being. I recommend the book to anyone who wants an entertaining, but not that challenging a read.