"The Wonder” by Emma Donoghue, is one of the most thought-provoking novels I’ve encountered in recent memory. The novel opens with English nurse Lib Wright, embarking on a voyage that will take her from her homeland to Ireland where she is charged with watching 11-year-old Anna O’Donnell. Anna, according to local legend, is a miracle - the child has not eaten in four months and is, as far as anyone can tell, healthy as can be. Lib’s job, which she shares with a devout Irish nun, is to make sure Anna O’Donnell does not eat so that her fast can be an attested-to miracle. Lib, fresh from her own personal traumas, is nothing if not skeptical. She believes she will merely have to watch closely and the fraud of it all will be exposed. There is no room in Lib’s scientific mind for the possibility of anything even resembling a miracle.
Lib begins her watch with the precision she learned from her mentor, Florence Nightingale. She takes tests and measurements and sets up an exacting schedule. She is determined not to be fooled like the villagers in this tiny, unsophisticated village.
Surprisingly, Lib finds herself more than a little charmed by Anna O’Donnell. The girl is not just an extremely pious child, she’s something more; and Lib can’t help but love her. When Lib realizes the girl is starving to death - and not being sustained on the “manna from heaven” - she’s compelled to take dramatic action, even when the girl’s own parents beg her not to.
For me, this book raised questions of morality: Who has the right to say what is moral and what is not for another person? Religion? When does organized religion become a screen for something sinister? And science: where does compassion come in?
“The Wonder” would make for a stimulating book club discussion.
Donoghue is also the author of “Room”, which I liked but didn’t love.
While you’re here at the library picking up a copy of “The Wonder”, you may want to check out Debra Spark’s “Unknown Caller”. Spark will be at the Windham Library for an Author Talk on June 14 at 6pm. I recently finished her collection of essays about writing -“Curious Attractions”- which were some of the best reading about writing I’ve found yet. Please call the library at 892-1908 to reserve a spot for the talk.