the wonder (emma donoghue)

The Wonder
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Religious Fiction?

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Image via: Amazon

Every year, I pull together a list of things I might like for Christmas, and every year, that list includes at least three books. This year, I completely forgot that I included The Wonder on that list, but luckily nobody purchased it for me before I downloaded the eBook from our local library and tore through it. Whoops! Seriously though, how did I only recently learn about the brilliance of library eBooks? I get the appeal of purchasing tangible copies of books and all, but if you’re already planning on reading a book on your Kindle for convenience’s sake, why not check it out from the library and save yourself some money? This is coming from somebody who seriously cannot get enough of the library eBook situation, in case you didn’t notice. I’m unclear on whether this is a special feature at our public library or something in libraries across the country, but either way, if it’s available to you, TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT.

So yes, long story short, that’s how I found myself staying up past my bedtime as I read chapter after chapter of The Wonder. And there’s a reason this book secured a coveted spot on my reading list: Emma Donoghue is a pretty impressive lady. She has a PhD, for starters, but she’s better known as the mastermind behind the brilliant novel Room. I’ve yet to actually read it (I know, I know—I’m a bad bibliophile!), but I did watch and love and cry during the Oscar-winning film adaptation. Which is amazing. Seriously. Watch it if you have the chance. Or even better, be a good bibliophile (unlike me) and read the book first and watch the movie and then report back with all of your observations!…This is clearly going to be a rambling sort of blog post, but suffice to say that I’d wanted to read Emma Donoghue’s works for awhile, and this novel’s plot—a nurse investigating the authenticity of a young Irish girl’s claim that she hasn’t eaten in months—was super intriguing. So I powered up my Kindle and jumped right in.

If we’re being honest, I wasn’t immediately sold. I’m not sure if it’s because I had too high of expectations or if I found the writing a bit, well, pretentious. Whatever the reason, I spent the first few chapters alternating between almost giving up and feeling like a jerk for wanting to abandon the book because I felt the author (not the character) seemed pretentious. So I gave it a few more chapters, and that was the right decision because slowly, slowly, I found myself falling into Emma Donoghue‘s story.

Lib, the narrator, is an outsider visiting Anna O’Donnell’s small Irish hometown, and so her observations about the family and town seem, at times, quite judgmental. But I guess that’s the point. She’s doubtful about the authenticity of Anna’s claims (that she, spoiler alert, survives on “manna” from heaven), and she does her best to convince her readers of the absolute ridiculousness of the situation. Though I didn’t ever fully warm up to Lib, I did warm up to the story she weaves, and within a few chapters, I could appreciate why this mystery (Has Anna actually fasted for the past four months? If so, how? If not, how is she secretly eating?) would be worth exploring.

Either way, I kept at it, and I found myself so caught up in Emma Donoghue’s story that when she hit with the climactic moments in the final few chapters (and yes, there are a few of them), it was like a punch to the gut. I was completely taken aback by the story’s twists. In other words, it felt a bit like a cleverly written thriller novel under the guise of highbrow literature. The best of both worlds, I’d argue.

That being said—and I’m sure this was, in part, the point—it doesn’t paint a super flattering picture of Catholicism. It explores Catholic guilt and hypocrisy, of the Catholic community’s (potentially misguided) faith in their priests, of the risks of blind faith. As someone with Catholic family members who already regularly struggles with these issues, it was interesting to see them in a long-ago setting in a community where Catholicism was the absolute focus in everyone’s life.

So, with that in mind, this is one of those books that could go either way. It’s no question for me, at least, that the novel earned a solid “lit” vote because of the last five or six chapters. However, I totally recognize all of the turnoffs that would discourage someone from reading it (ranging from Emma Donoghue’s writing style to its portrayal of Catholics), and because of those features, I totally understand why someone wouldn’t enjoy the book. If I could rate this with something other than “good” or “bad,” I’d probably put it “above average” but not “great,” certainly not the “masterpiece” it’s been called. Take my review with a grain of salt, then, and if you do choose to power up your Kindle and check it out of your local library, let me know what you think!

Verdict: Lit

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the wonder (emma donoghue)