Today I read my very newest book, that arrived only yesterday. This is The Wonder by Emma Donoghue. It’s my first Book of the Month Club book. This is a subscription service that offers its readers a choice of five books each month, or the option of skipping the month if nothing appeals to them. Additional featured books and those from previous months are also available. My roommate got me a six month subscription for my birthday, so I might as well use it.
Set in Ireland in 1859, The Wonder is the story of a nurse asked to watch over an eleven year old girl who hasn’t eaten in four months. It’s steeped in Christian (Catholic) imagery, which is appropriate considering the time period and location. According to the note at the back, the concept is based on true stories, though this tale is entirely fictional.
The book itself is a mystery, wearing the skin of historical fiction. This isn’t a bad thing at all, and I for one am grateful for it. There are a number of genres that I am much more likely to read if they are first wrapped in the trappings of one I already enjoy. Mystery and horror are the ones that come to mind most strongly.
Lib Wright, the nurse, begins the book as a hardened skeptic who is determined to prove that the girl’s claim of fasting for four months is entirely false. The five chapters of the book take us through her shifting attitudes towards Anna O’Donnell, her family, and the villagers. There is also Sister Michael, the other nurse who has been contracted to watch the girl.
This book was a rather frustrating read. “There are none so blind as those who will not see” and my goodness it is true in this case. The adults are so insistent that what Lib has been told initially is truth that it’s given me a headache to have to endure with the nurse as she tries to act in the child’s best interest.
At least the end was satisfying enough that I didn’t scream out of sheer frustration.
The Wonder is not really about Anna. She’s simply the seed from which the story sprouted. Lib is the main character, the one who drives the plot. She has her own baggage that she’s brought on this assignment, and just as she seeks to help Anna, the girl is helping her to deal with her own past. Not directly, of course, but faced with the situation before her, Lib is finally facing her own fears, failures, and shortcomings.
In fact, there is a point near the end when I realized that this book could not have been written very long ago. True, The Wonder was only released this year, but it would not have been written more than thirty years ago, and probably not for as wide an audience as it has been. That, at least, made me happy.
I’m still debating whether or not I’m going to keep the book. I enjoyed the ending, and the novel itself was well-written, but that doesn’t change how insanely frustrating it was to read. Part of the reason why I finished it today is because it’s less than three hundred pages and my pride wouldn’t let me put it off. It’s not a bad book, it’s just not one that I had fun reading. So I’m going to go get my hold from the library before it closes, and get ready for the new books arriving tomorrow from amazon. Maybe I’ll offer this one to my mom. She’s much more likely to read “book club” type books than I am.