What is this about?: Lib comes to Ireland to watch over a girl who claims to be surviving from manna from heaven. This is a book that is steeped in religion and quite slow paced as a result.
What else is this about?: Anna and the reality of her situation.
Blurb: 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.
I can’t say I liked this book, but it has given me much to think about.
Religion is a core theme in The Wonder, as the power and danger of faith is explored. Set in a time in Ireland when religion pervades pretty much everything, I couldn’t help but feel the supporting characters in this, who are all devoted to religion, to the detriment of a child, while Lib, the nurse, was a sole voice of reason and science was a bit much.
But I’m speeding ahead of myself: Lib is a nurse hired to watch over Anna, who claims to have survived for four months on manna from heaven. The nurse comes armed with every condescending sneer and thought Donoghue can muster to give a woman who is supposedly the book’s voice of reason, and I suppose, science in this novel. I marvelled as page after page, I grew so weary of Lib and her haughty demeanour because as she reminds us often, she worked in a hospital, and was trained by Florence Nightingale, so she knows so much more than everyone else around her, especially if they believe in miracles and God.
Lib looked down on absolutely everyone in the village and even Anna as she was sure that Anna was faking. The writing is supposed to create the impression that she’s railing against the people around her, that she is the hero that is going to save the child, but honestly, why is absolutely everyone is so blinded by religion in the village that only outsiders like Lib and a journalist can understand what is happening to Anna?
Lib’s disgust? hatred? Condescension to anything remotely considered religious is about the same as the religious fervour and belief characters express in Anna living on manna from heaven for four months. Perhaps that’s the point — that whether you believe in science or religion, Donoghue is commenting on the people who believe in each too much? But, that would have worked better in a contemporary setting. Which brings me back to the point of Lib being the sole island of sanity in a sea of religion surrounding Anna.
Lib’s POV was a slog, and a dreary one at that, with the barest amount of lightening up coming in the form of Anna — she is an innocent in this, doing what she believes is the right thing because that’s what her religion taught her to do. The book is filled with prayers and psalms that Anna says, so be prepared for that. Anna wants peace, and neither her parents nor Lib realise that until the end.
Neither science nor religion came up trumps in this book, as the plot of the book narrows to a very human evil. Anna has found refuge in her religion, even as others have warped her belief to their own ends. Lib finally sees that, but the realisation comes too late for me for her character.
I’d have preferred a much more even storytelling, even if it require some historical licence with the beliefs of the time. What do you think? Am I being too harsh?