Although I have “Room” on my bookshelves I have not got round to reading it yet. (I’m here referring to Donoghue’s international best-seller, not actual room, of which I have very little on my shelves!) Here, I would imagine we are in very different territory with this her 14th publication.
This book focuses on the phenomenon of “fasting girls”, a curio which has popped up throughout history when a (usually) young female clams to be living without taking in any food. At times in the past, some saw this as a new stage of human development, as if the faster is converting food in a different way, like a plant and inevitably, perhaps, the religious have seen it as a sign of the miraculous.
In a mid-nineteenth century village in the Irish Midlands an eleven year old girl is causing ructions and great excitement by her four month total fast. A committee is formed to investigate and a nun and a nurse have been employed to monitor. The nurse, Lib Wright, trained by Florence Nightingale and a veteran of the Scutari Barracks in the Crimea has been brought over from England to keep watch.
Lib does not adhere to the Catholic beliefs which dominate the local population but is thrust into this intense world of ritual and superstition. This and the rudimentary accommodation of burning peat and smoke filled huts makes for a very intense environment. Much of the action takes place in the basic room between nurse and patient. The child initially seems to be thriving without food. What are the motives behind the child’s claim and is this some kind of ruse? Is she, as she states, being fed by some kind of divine intervention or is something more sinister and underhand going on?
Donoghue catalogues the two weeks of this watch of close observation and note-taking. Lib’s calling is still very much in its infancy but she is aware that she has been taught by the best and the words of Nightingale (Miss N) are never far from her mind. Lib is submerged into a world where religion and superstition can overshadow common sense and the read is involving and builds nicely as the truth is revealed.
This is a novel rich in atmosphere. Lib is very much an alien amongst the Irish and the environment of peat and an unstable boggy land is very much as alien to her as the attitude of the villagers towards the miracle child. There’s so much room for discussion for reading groups, but with morality and religion at their centre these are likely to be lively ones. “The Wonder” provides a thought-provoking involving read which will boost Donoghue’s reputation and variety as a writer and storyteller.
“The Wonder” has been shortlisted for the Bookhugger Book Of The Year over at Nudge books. Take a look to see the other nominations and if this is your favourite read of the year vote for Emma Donoghue. You have until 10th February to register your vote.
“The Wonder” was published in hardback by Picador in September 2016. The paperback is published in May when we could expect to see Emma Donoghue once again ascending the best-seller lists.