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In mid 19th century Ireland, Nightingale-trained nurse Lib Wright is hired as part of a two week watch on a girl who has been purportedly going without food for over four months. She is understandably skeptical of the claim, but over the course of the two weeks she discovers the appalling truth of the situation. The author effectively unwinds the story, until a somewhat improbable climax, which is the book's only real weakness.
If you're a fan of Emma Donoghue's bestselling novel Room, you will love The Wonder, a thrilling page-turner that keeps you guessing until the final pages. Lib is a nurse trained by Florence Nightingale. Her expertise is requested by the family of Annie, an eleven-year-old girl who claims she has been surviving for the past four months without food. Lib’s task is to watch Annie night-and-day to either prove or debunk the supposed miracle. Disturbing, fast-paced, and claustrophobic, this novel will have you flip-flopping, taking sides with both Annie and Lib as the horror and wonder of Annie’s self-imposed starvation unfolds.
I'll say what I can about this book, but I think the best review is Stephen King's in The New York Times of September 27, 2016, and I would recommend it highly.
Lib Wright is an English nurse, recently returned from the Crimean War, where she was trained by Florence Nightingale. In flashbacks we see the toll the nursing took on Lib, but also her pride in her scientific, detached method of nursing. Wright is hired by a town committee in a small Irish town to watch over Anna O'Donnell, a young girl who has eaten nothing since her 11th birthday--almost four months without any food. In an afterword, Donoghue explains that O'Donnell is based on at least 50 cases over the last 400 years of "Fasting Girls," but King, in his review has done some additional digging and says that O'Donnell's is a "case that most closely resembles...that of Sarah Jacob, a Welsh child of 12 who was said to have gone without food for more than two years. After her story was reported, a team of nurses was hired to keep watch and discover if the girl really was fasting."
In The Wonder, Wright discovers an Ireland that has been decimated by the Great Famine, and a country that is practically ruled by Catholicism. It becomes clear to Wright that the town committee, for the most part, truly believes that Wright, and her partner nurse, an Irish nun whom she hardly trusts for accurate reporting, will find that Anna is a saint, living without food. Wright, on the other hand, begins as a cynic, assuming the family is doing it for the money or the notoriety, and below that is a general English disdain for the Irish, seeing them as backwards and uncivilized (which Wright tended to bang on about so constantly that it cost at least half a star). When she learns that the family is truly donating the money and gifts that are left for Anna, and that they seem to be pious, yet honest people, she begins to question herself, and what role her observation may be playing in Anna's fasting.
I can't go much further into the plot without spoilers, but it is a story worth reading, for the insight into Nightingale's methods, the horrors of the Crimean War, the extent of the hold the Catholic church had over Ireland at the time, and the aftermath of the Great Famine. And all of that is aside from the fascinating story of Wright's watch over a child--a job she thought of as simple--that becomes one of the most complex things she's ever faced. Another half a star lost for what felt to me like a somewhat hokey ending.
I did enjoy this work of historical fiction that is based on real occurrences. I did get a bit sick of the dumb Irish/silly Catholic thing after awhile. I may be a bit sensitive but the common sense Englishwoman coming in to save the day started to grate.
You won't believe how this one ends! However, the beginning is quite slow in my opinion.
A very different read for me. The first three quarters of the book while enticing progressed slowly, only to have the ending finish to rapidly. I was kept reading, but jolted by the abrupt conclusion of the book.
It was an interesting historical fiction period I was unacquainted with.
The characters were clearly one dimensional and not nuanced. The Lib's self-righteous fervor in rescuing her young starving patient lacked any nuance or compassion toward her faith-
blinded family. The conclusion of this story stretched credulity. Readers who liked "Room"
will be disappointed.
Set in Ireland in the late 1800s, I found this book very slow to start. It picked up some after the first 100 pages. Even though it wasn't my favorite book, I think it'll lead to an interesting book club discussion.
I thought about changing my rating and thoughts about this book after attending my local library’s book discussion group, but I think my rating still holds true for myself and I would still recommend this book. It might not be for everyone, but this historic/literary fiction definitely took me by surprise! It was slow to start but the ending was worth it (I’m also a sucker for a good ending - no matter how unrealistic *shrug*). I thought the roles were well thought through and I also thought it interesting how starvation, nurses, religion, family, guilt, etc. were portrayed. I definitely think it’s a great book club read - it makes for a lot of discussion. It also had an appropriate and yet still relevant setting, great imagery, and a strong female lead role - however, I did find that a particular male role did kind of play hero (I don’t want to spoil it) and that’s kind of disappointing. But many other people in my group found him not to be that way and very much gave credit to the character Lib. Again, a great book club read and definitely something different from my usual reads! I’d recommend it!
Themes of rural guilelessness vs. city sophistication and traditional faith vs. modern rationalism are effortlessly portrayed in this beautiful story of a skeptical nurse who is employed to determine whether a "fasting girl" is a miracle or a hoax. The truth of the situation is revealed and the nurse comes to love the girl. The reader is caught up in the suspense that builds at the end of the novel.
This novel has so much to offer - romantic love, maternal love, mystery, a glimpse of another place and time...!
While three million poor, rural Irish perished by starvation, the GB didn't lift much of a finger to send aid. They actually exported Irish food for their own consumption. My great grandparents immigrated from Cork 1855 to Canada & then US. Just my opinion.
This is a reread and what I did not fully appreciate the first time when I read more for the plot of the "fasting girl" was the commentary of the snotty english nurse about rural ireland. The English really do think the Irish are subhuman. And then what's not to like about a story about the evils of the Catholic church and evils of keeping family secrets.
This story is an agonizing glimpse into the lives of poor rural Irish just after the potato famine of the early 19th century. There is some political underpinning as the British nurse learns how culpable England was in this famine. But the story is of a family beleaguered by druid superstition overlaid with an orthodox Catholicism that would not allow human fragility to upset their belief in miracles. A great story. Well researched and yes, the ending is a bit overstretched but I smiled when I closed the book.
Very disappointing ..... a short story stretched out to be a tedious novel with a ridiculous fairy tale ending !
A haunting story about a English nurse who was hired to watch a young Irish girl who was looked on as a holy person because she supposedly was able to live without eating. Not only is what the nurse, who had worked with Florence Nightingale, discovered about the child, it is an interesting look from the British point of view at the Irish potato famine. Along with the mystery of the child’s miraculous survival is the interplay of Protestant and Roman Catholic views. You’ll finish reading the book with a lot to think about including how a child’s interaction and expectations of those around her have influence the child.
This richly atmospheric, gothic tale is set in a small Irish village in the 1850s, and focuses on Anna, the girl believed to be thriving after months without food, and Lib, one of the nurses hired to uncover the truth. Donoghue writes an engrossing story, exploring religion and Irish superstition, with a creeping tension that propels the reader through, as we strive to find out what is actually going on with this little girl and why.
For three quarters of the book, nothing happens. I think it was supposed to be about building suspense but instead the book was just increasing boredom. I lost my patience and began skimming to discover the answer of why the girl was fasting and how she was staying alive. Nothing mind blowing was revealed.
I did not find the main character, Lib, very likable and we are supposed to believe her as being the heroine. Lib was just too judgy and self-righteous.
"Room" was so complex and fast paced. "The Wonder" left me wondering what happened to Donoghue's talent?
A quick and easy read, with lots to ponder later. Donoghue wants us to consider how a community created these fasting women of history. But the English nurse used as her lens is too much an outsider and her angry condemnations of those around her become tedious. More interesting is the Irish journalist who interprets the religious Irish world for us better and provides the clues that the reader gets long before the nurse. They might not like it but the book club would have lots to talk about!
An unusual story, but a familiar tale about females being burdened by and blamed for the sins of males. In this case religion plays a big part. Sad little story in many ways.
For the first 3/4 of this book, I was bored and did not like a single character. The story became mildly interesting when the main character, Lib, began to "wake up" and found an ally. Despite this, I was in a constant state of irritation with most of the characters and their stupidity and blind devotion to faith. By the time Lib discovered some dark truths about the family, I was not surprised, nor did I care. The best part of this book was the Epilogue, which is not saying much. I suppose the ending is possible given the time frame in which this story is set, but some suspension of credibility was required. Obviously, I am not a fan of this book.
I have not read this author's best-selling Room or seen the movie. I honestly am not sure I even have any interest in it after forcing myself to finish this one.
"Released from her pain meant she'd died, Lib realized. Only in Ireland would this count as a happy ending." The tale caught me up in the beginning but then slowly unravelled; much like listening to someone long-winded telling a joke while you are kept waiting and waiting for the punchline. I felt that there were too many surprises and attempts to be clever about intertwining tales and yet never delivering that final punchline as it could have been. The tale was very interesting which if simplified could have been powerful. I left without feeling a true indictment when there were so many possibilities
I read for entertainment and escape and to end a long day. I'm just not into books about dying children. It was very depressing and 3/4 of the way through I just couldn't take anymore so started skimming it to the end to find out what happened so I could say I finished it and gave it my all...but...just not my thing, I guess. I may have had bad dreams that night.