Last year, I read Room for the first time and never forgot the experience. I was curious to see how Emma Donoghue’s other works would stack up. When I saw her latest book, The Wonder, on my library’s new books shelf, I thought that I’d give it a try. I’ll have to read a different book, because The Wonder was a mixed bag and very different than Room.
Lib Wright is an English nurse who was mentored by Florence Nightingale in the Crimea. She’s now been hired by an Irish diocese to observe a young girl who has not eaten in four months and appears hale and hearty nevertheless. Lib’s job is to see if there is a farce at play or a miracle. As she gets to know Anna, her parents, and the village, she is forced to uncover her own biases and religious doubts. Many secrets emerge, and she is forced to use her nurse’s training to care for her patient and make a drastic decision.
This was a truly interesting philosophical struggle that got weighed down by too many soapy plot points. There were tons of secrets and tons of reveals. I couldn’t keep track. What kept this from being a two-star book for me was the way Donoghue brought the time period to life. She’s a good writer, but Lib is not as compelling a first-person narrator as Jack from Room was. As I said in my Goodreads review, the simplicity of Room allows Donoghue to explore a deep question that she has no canvas for in The Wonder. The ending severely cheapens the theological questions and criticisms of the institutional church, particularly regarding child abuse or potentially toxic religious practice. I decided this book deserved a 3 instead of a 2, because these ideas do come into play, as well as the archetype of the holy fool, even if the execution just did not come off in the end.
Read Room instead.
Cross-posted on my blog.