This week I picked up a copy of The Wonder by Emma Donahue, Donoghue’s 2010 novel room was an emotional masterpiece and I was very excited to get my mitts on The Wonder.
The novel follows the experience of English nurse Lib who travels to a tiny Irish village to keep watch of young Anna O’Donnell, a miracle child who has allegedly not eaten a thing for 4 months. Lib’s job is to observe Anna and discover the truth behind her enduring religious fast’. Closely resembling the real life story of Sarah Jacob, the welsh fasting girl born in 1857, I was keen to learn more about this unusual phenomenon.
The book has so much potential and all the ingredients that make up my favourite kind of story, a historical theme, potential for cultural and religious conflict and a mystery that needs to be solved. However, it is with a heavy heart that I found The Wonder to be very disappointing.
The main source of my disappointment comes from the main character Lib, who seems to be a two different characters in different parts of the book. Donoghue describes Lib as ‘ An educated skeptic’ despite this throughout the first half of the novel she comes across as completely clueless and moronic. Lib fails to pick up on numerous social cues and constantly misunderstands what is happening around her. The best and most annoying example of this revolves around Anna’s older brother. The other characters state he ‘has passed over’ and is ‘Looking down on us’, to your average ten years old it is obvious what the characters are referring to but not to Lib. The supposedly intelligent Nurse is completely confused by these statements and continues to probe the subject, resulting in a very awkward exchange with Anna’s mother. In fact, most of Libs social interactions end in disaster, as she struggles to interact with the Roman catholic community. instead, she opts to gawp in befuddlement at their ‘strange ways’. Lib is supposedly a highly trained educated nurse and I find it hard to believe she has never encountered a roman catholic before.
This behavior is particularly confusing as her intelligence returns during the end chapters of the book, Lib somehow miraculously develops cunning and her devious schemes become a driving force of the plot.
Lib also comes across as very condescending when referring to little Anna herself as “A shammer of the highest dye” amongst other things because of this I found Lib totally unbelievable as a character throughout most of the book she comes across as cold and uncaring, far from the educated nightingale nurse she is meant to be.
Lib, of course, is not the only character in this story, unfortunately, it is hard to remember many of them as there was little to none meaningful characterization. For me, the characters themselves were either not likable or there were no attempts to establish any empathy for them. This is so bad that later in the story when the author reveals a previous crisis experienced by the characters instead of igniting intense empathy you feel angry that the writer is using a cheap trick in order to get you to care about the fate of the underdeveloped characters. I was tempted to mention the completely superfluous romance that added very little to the already poorly executed story. However, I feel as if I have slated this book enough.
I wanted to enjoy it but was left feeling as empty as Anna’s stomach.