The Wonder is the story of an eleven-year-old Irish girl, Anna, living in the mid-19th century (the years just after the potato famine), whose family claims she has gone four months without eating and is still in perfect health. To verify this apparent miracle, the local community hires two nurses to watch Anna 24/7 for two weeks and be sure she really is not eating. Could God be sustaining her by supernatural means? One of the nurses is a devout nun; the other, from whose point of view the story is told, is Lib Wright, a skeptical professional nurse, trained by Florence Nightengale during the Crimean War. Lib is convinced that either Anna, or her parents, or all of them together, are perpetrating a hoax. She has no time for miracles, mythology, or religion, and embarks on her duty with relish, sure she will soon debunk Anna’s claims.
This is a delicate, beautifully written novel in which the unfolding relationship between Lib and Anna threatens all of Lib’s preconceived notions, without ever shaking her faith in science or her skepticism about the superstitious world in which she is suddenly immersed. There are no good guys or bad guys in this novel, only people trying to do their best according to their understanding of how the world works. But those different understandings are about to clash in a dramatic climax to what has been, for most of its pages, a fairly slow and quiet novel.
I really loved The Wonder, and it will take its place along with Frog Music, Slammerkin, and Room as one of my favourite of Donoghue’s novels.