Book Review: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

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The Wonder by Emma Donoghue ★★★★☆

Summary: Lib, an English nurse at the end of the 19th century, is called to Ireland to observe a miracle: a girl who has not eaten for months. Lib is determined to expose the lunacy in the situation- but ends up uncovering something darker than she expects.

Other eleven-year-olds knew when they’d eaten and when they hadn’t; they were old enough to tell make-believe from fact. There was something very different about – very wrong with – Anna O’Donnell.

Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery

Plot

This book presented a fascinating mystery: how has little Anna O’Donnell survived four months without food? I was totally enraptured by this enigma, and I even began to wonder if this book of historical fiction might actually need elements of fantasy to pull it off. But this book is decidedly non-fantasy, though it does carry elements of the fanatical, and there was an element of eeriness, something sinister bordering on supernatural, that pervaded this novel, and had me just as eager and frustrated to solve the mystery of Anna O’Donnell as the main character, Lib, was.

I loved the historical aspects of this novel: the religious fervor of a small Irish town at the end of the 19th century, the developments in nursing and medical knowledge that came into play, the infuriating world-view of the female sex. These aided and drove a fascinating plot.

I must say that this book was a slow read. It wasn’t until the last third of the book that I felt entirely engrossed with the desperate need to solve the mystery (literally stayed up till 3 am because I couldn’t go to sleep without knowing how it would end), but the first two thirds of this book were slow going. They weren’t unentertaining, and now that I’ve finished the book I can’t exactly say it’s a fault of the book – the build up definitely aided to quickened pace of the end – but I wasn’t entirely “into” it until the plot sped up a bit.

Overall, it was a fascinating read, and one that exposed elements of history I never knew existed. I’d definitely recommend if you want to read a rather disturbing mystery.

Characters

Lib Wright, an English nurse who practiced under Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, was a brilliant character. She was all presumptuous logic in a town of zealous Irish Catholics. I loved her development over the course of the novel; sometimes I was in total agreement with her, and other times I was beyond frustrated by her arrogance and wanted to see her proven wrong. Lib was a fantastic character.

I also really liked the romantic aspect of this novel- it snuck itself in and did not overwhelm the plot at all, and I love how it aided to Lib’s character. And Anna, poor, good Anna. I loved how her extreme spirituality and Lib’s staunch logic and reason opposed each other, and the effect it had on Lib’s development and the resolution of the novel.

Writing

Like I said, the events of this story took place slowly, but I found the text to be fairly concise – the prose really embodied the personality of the main character, Lib. The tone and the atmosphere of the story really brought me to a damp, dark, 19th century Ireland.

Was I satisfied?

Yes! A little slow, but this book was a fascinating telling of a troubling mystery that left me reeling. It’s a book I put on my shelf with full satisfaction.

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8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

    • Thank you!! I think if you read this when you’re in the mood for something that’s a bit of a slow burn, you’ll get the most enjoyment out of it. I can definitely understand conflicting views, but I loved it!

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  1. Totally agree with your assessment! I loved how flawed and aggravating Lib was – it’s great to see a female protagonist with such depth. And I totally agree that it worked as a slow burn kind of book. The pace didn’t really bother me even though it took a while to get going – I think she did a good job at establishing the atmosphere in the early chapters. What did you think of the ending? (Spoilers, sort of, for anyone reading this.) I wasn’t crazy about the final chapter, I thought it was a bit too rushed and randomly happy after such a dark book. But I also just hate happy endings in general.

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    • Thank you!! YES Lib was so fantastically in depth and I loved how the situation changed her and grew her and made her stronger in her own convictions. Yeah I thought the early chapters definitely did a great job of setting the scene and easing us into the radicalness of the situation. (Spoilers) Yeah, I did think that last chapter was rushed and wasn’t crazy about it, but I did like that they got a happy ending, I just think after the slow pace of the book it wrapped it up a biiit too easily and quickly. I would have preferred a tentatively hopeful ending over the all-out happy ending it had.

      Liked by 1 person

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