Book Review - The Wonder

by Emma Donoghue (Picador) ISBN: 9781509818396

Donoghue’s latest novel is yet another delightfully dark exploration of the human condition, this time drawing attention to a phenomenon tucked away in the Irish Midlands. 

Nightingale-trained Lib Wright is hired to investigate the case of a fasting girl who remains miraculously healthy, yet her determination to expose eleven-year-old Anna and her family as frauds dwindles the more she sees. As Lib fights an internal battle of sense against her morality, whatever miracle keeping Anna alive begins to fade, and she must choose between the objectivity of her training or saving the life of a child. 

The Wonder is a chilling story of fundamentalism and fragile mortality that left me reeling. I’ve always enjoyed Donoghue’s writing, but this novel demonstrated her exquisite storytelling ability like never before. Building tension and subtle shifts in emotion had me riveted right from the first chapter, the story and characters slowly weaving their way through my mind until I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. The author didn’t let me slip out of her grasp for one moment until I’d turned the very last page. 

Haunting, beautiful and deeply moving, The Wonder is a perfect fit for those who enjoyed The Children Act and Burial Rites.
Amy Bouwer


The Wonder is set in the Irish Midlands in 1850. Mrs Wright, an English nurse trained by Florence Nightingale in Crimea, is summoned to work for a family for two weeks. After a long journey, she arrives at the home in the small village where there are few home comforts.

The following day she meets her patient, an eleven-year-old girl named Anna who has refused to eat for four months, yet appears to be well. A committee instructs Mrs Wright and Sister Michael, a nun, to watch Anna day and night to see if she secretly eats. People are fascinated, saying Anna will become a Saint. Mrs Wright is highly suspicious that this is a hoax. Meanwhile a journalist also wants to investigate. 

Anna is slowly dying yet no-one chooses to acknowledge it. The story is creepy, chilling and compelling. Catholic fundamentalism supersedes a mother's love. In essence, Anna becomes a spectacle to study what nourishes the body and the soul. 

Emma Donoghue was inspired to write this story upon hearing about cases of girls who were hailed for surviving without food for long periods of time. Some were put under surveillance for weeks. Some ate again. Some were force-fed or coerced and some died. Some lived claiming they had no need for food. 

This is a thought-provoking book. How does this compare to eating and psychological disorders today? Also, how much does your faith affect your thinking? The author of Room has written another nail-biting novel.

Dawn Blankfield


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The Sealed Letter

by Emma Donoghue (Picador) ISBN 978-1-4472-0598-2


This story is indeed a glorious piece of Victoriana.


It’s well constructed and it’s also a great work of industry. I could well imagine a married woman who is married to a typical Victorian man, having to have affairs. The nail biting issue of “where” to meet and make love crops up all the time. 


Helen, married with two children, never managed to get my sympathy and in the end reveals herself to be selfish and using her friends for her own gain. Her great friend who is unmarried and starting to get women’s independence off the ground is called Fido. In her mannish outfits she is the absolute opposite of her feminine flouncy friend Helen. 


The court case at the centre of the story  is a revelation of the times. My heart ached for the mother, Helen, who belonged body and soul to her husband, as did his two children, who were never awarded to her.


This is a page turner and full of secrets and lies so true to the Victorian age. The author describes his characters so well that you almost feel you would know them if you bumped into them. It is a long story but well worth it in the end.


Dee Andrew


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