When Emma Donoghue wrote The Wonder she already had a strong following of readers after her success with Room. This story is completely different yet thought-provoking in its own way. The Wonder is a tale of two strangers and the clash between science and faith.
Set in the mid-nineteenth century in a tiny village in Ireland, something unusual is happening. Is it a medical anomaly or a miracle, as the town proclaims?
To appease the scientific minds of the day, a no-nonsense English nurse is paid to observe a girl said to have survived without food for months. Locals and city visitors have flocked to the village to witness the ‘miracle’ and journalists from the city have come to cover the story. As the days pass with no answers and the girl’s condition worsening, the story becomes quite tense. Was it anorexia, religious mania, entrepreneurial spirit or guilt that drove her to this? Or was someone else manipulating her?
Donoghue smoothly combines the historical setting, with the developing relationship between the observer and the observed, family secrets, religious hysteria and bizarre 1850s medical explanations. The storyline moves slowly but completely drew me in. It’s both gripping and at times surprising.
How long can she live like this? Will she die? Is she a miracle or a fraud? These were the questions that kept me reading until the end.