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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Wonder - Emma Donoghue

Lib, a widowed English nurse trained by Florence Nightingale, takes a post in Ireland. Her task is to surveil 11-year-old Anna around the clock for two weeks along with a local nursing sister. Anna has refused to eat anything for four months, yet appears to be in perfect health. Her strange condition has begun to draw crowds who believe it to be a miracle. Lib approaches her work with skepticism and determines to find out who has been feeding Anna on the sly. Anna says she’s being fed “manna from heaven” but what is the substance and who is feeding it to her? Then, shortly after the nurses begin to keep watch, the girl’s relatively robust physical condition begins to falter.

The novel is set in a rural Irish cottage surrounded by a damp sucking bog. It is the 1850s and a gloomier locale is hard to imagine. The villagers are religious, superstitious and willing to believe that God is sustaining this child for a special purpose. Anna herself is a cheerful, bright child who spends her days reciting hymns and saying prayers including a benediction that she repeats 33 times per day to get souls out of purgatory. She also entertains curious guests who leave gifts and money until Lib puts a stop to it.

The main conflict in the novel is between religious faith and science but also between men and women and the Irish and the English. Inspired by cases of 'fasting girls' between the sixteenth century and the twentieth, the story is well researched. It has a fairytale quality about it that reminds me of the stories my Irish grandmother used to tell me about banshees, little people and second sight. It is a thought-provoking and compelling read and I enjoyed it very, very much.

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