In The Wonder, set in the 1850s, a nurse named Lib Wright is sent to the impoverished Irish Midlands to observe a ‘miracle’ – eleven year old Anna O’Donnell has apparently eaten nothing for four months, but is nevertheless miraculously alive and well. People travel from all over the United Kingdom to get a glimpse of or receive a prayer from the girl, and a young journalist from the Irish Times has been sent to cover her story. Lib’s job is to uncover the truth of the situation, and thus begins a suspenseful and eerily atmospheric story that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat.
I found the premise of this novel to be completely intriguing; I was gripped as soon as I read the blurb. All told from Lib’s point of view, we witness Anna as she does, day to day, as she refuses food and places all her faith in her God. Because we get to observe Anna as Lib does – down to reading Lib’s nurse’s notes detailing Anna’s physical and emotional state – the narrative in the novel is quite slow paced, and effectively created suspense throughout. I loved that this novel was a psychodrama: the character of the little girl Anna was so intriguing and chilling, and at times it felt almost unbearable to watch her but at the same time I could not turn away. I read this novel quite quickly as I was completely hooked, and was constantly eager to know where the author was going to take the story line.
I really enjoyed the setting of this novel, both in terms of the period setting and the location. Donoghue really made nineteenth-century rural Ireland come alive; the details of the village in which Lib stayed were so vivid, and through the Gothic influences utilised the author managed to create a really powerful, eerie atmosphere. This was certainly the strongest aspect of the novel for me. I also really enjoyed the examination of strict Catholicism in Ireland at this time, and the absolute power it had to influence people and also destroy them. Furthermore, insights into Anna’s family’s use of prayers, rituals and superstition were fascinating. I thought the novel succeeded in capturing a really good balance between giving historical insight and also presenting the inward emotions and conflicts of the protagonist.
While I loved the premise of the novel and was completely hooked during the first half, I found myself to be a little bit disappointed in the direction it took towards the second half. I was not quite as satisfied with the big reveal as I had been hoping I would be, however I was pleased with the way the novel concluded, with a twist at the end surprising me and helping redeem the novel for me a bit. In addition to this, while the writing was steady I did not find it anything special, and was hoping for more from what I had heard about the author.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. The premise is fascinating and unique, and for anyone interested in it I would definitely recommend they try it out. The atmosphere Donoghue created was eerie and compelling, and she really did succeed in creating a gripping read that I struggled to put down. While I wasn’t blown away as I had hoped, I would really recommend this novel for anyone wanting a dark and page-turning psychological thriller.