Wonder (Donoghue)

The Wonder 
Emma Donoghue, 2016
Little, Brown & Co.
304 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780316393874

In Emma Donoghue's latest masterpiece, an English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle—a girl said to have survived without food for months—-soon finds herself fighting to save the child's life.

Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation.

Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale's Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.

Written with all the propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller, The Wonder works beautifully on many levels—a tale of two strangers who transform each other's lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—October 24, 1969
Where—Dublin, Ireland
Education—B.A., University College Dublin; Ph.D., Cambridge University
Awards—Irish Book Award
Currently—lives in London, Ontario, Canada

Emma Donoghue was born in Dublin, Ireland, the youngest of eight children. She is the daughter of Frances (nee Rutledge) and academic and literary critic Denis Donoghue. Other than her tenth year, which she refers to as "eye-opening" while living in New York, Donoghue attended Catholic convent schools throughout her early years.

She earned a first-class honours BA from the University College Dublin in English and French (though she admits to never having mastered spoken French). Donoghue went on receive her PhD in English from Girton College at Cambridge University. Her thesis was on the concept of friendship between men and women in 18th-century English fiction.

At Cambridge, she met her future life partner Christine Roulston, a Canadian, who is now professor of French and Women's Studies at the University of Western Ontario. They moved permanently to Canada in 1998, and Donoghue became a Canadian citizen in 2004. She lives in London, Ontario, with Roulston and their two children, Finn and Una.

Donoghue has been able to make a living as a writer since she was 23. Doing so enables her to claim that she's never had an "honest job" since she was sacked after a summer as a chambermaid. In 1994, at only 25, she published first novel, Stir Fry, a contemporary coming of age novel about a young Irish woman discovering her sexuality.

Donoghue is perhaps best known for her 2010 novel, Room—its popularity practically made her a household name. Room spent months on bestseller lists and won the Irish Book Award; it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Orange prize, and  the (Canadian) Governor General's Award. In 2015, the novel was adapted to film. Donoghue wrote the screenplay, which earned her a nomination for an Academy Award, Golden Globe, and Bafta Award.

Since Room, Donoghue has published seven books, her most recent released in 2020—The Pull of the Stars. (Adapted from the author's website and Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/22/2016.)

Book Reviews
[F]ascinating…. The book is set in the mid-19th century, but its themes—faith and logic, credulity and understanding, the confused ways people act in the name of duty and belief and love—are modern ones. While the wonder of the title refers to many things, at its core it's an examination of the mysteries of reason, responsibility and the heart…Like Ms. Donoghue's best-selling Room, the novel ultimately concerns itself with courage, love and the lengths someone will go to protect a child. Holding Anna tight, Lib knows that "she'd give her the skin off her body if she had to, the bones out of her legs." The feeling is heartbreaking and transcendent and almost religious in itself.
Sarah Lyall - New York Times Book Review

These [claustraphobic] rooms of Donoghue’s may be tiny and sealed off, yet they teem with life-and-death drama and great moral questions. Hesitant readers may think that they’d rather lose themselves in stories with a larger sweep, a little more air; but Donoghue does so many intricate things within these small spaces of hers that, for a time, they become the most compelling places to linger. What was it that the poet William Blake said about seeing "a World in a Grain of Sand . . . ?" Something of that kind of mystic expansion happens in Donoghue’s rooms.
Maureen Corrigan - Washington Post

Donoghue poses powerful questions about faith and belief all the while crafting a compelling story and an evocative portrait of 19th-century Irish provincial society
Tom Beer - Newsday

Readers of historical fiction will gravitate to this tale.
Mary Ann Gwinn - Seattle Times

A riveting allegory about the trickle-down effect of trauma.
Megan O'Grady - Vogue

Donoghue's superb thriller will keep readers hanging on to every word, pondering how far one will go to prove her faith.
Liz Loerke - Real Simple

(Starred review.) Donoghue demonstrates her versatility by dabbling in a wide range of literary styles in this latest novel.... [E]ngrossing...with descriptions of period customs and 19th-century Catholic devotional objects and prayers. Even with its tidy ending, the novel asks daring questions about just how far some might go to prove their faith.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.)[S]tartlingly rewarding.... Heart-hammering suspense builds as Lib monitors Anna's quickening pulse, making this book's bracing conclusion one of the most satisfying in recent fiction. —John G. Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman
Library Journal

(Starred review.) Outstanding.... Exploring the nature of faith and trust with heartrending intensity, Donoghue's superb novel will leave few unaffected. —Sarah Johnson

(Starred review.) The story’s resolution seems like pure wish fulfillment, but vivid, tender scenes between Lib and Anna, coupled with the pleasing romance that springs up...will incline most readers to grant Donoghue her tentative happy ending.... [T]his gripping tale offers a welcome reminder that her historical fiction is equally fine.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use these LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for The Wonder...then take off on your own:

1. How would you describe Lib Wright (consider the name, perhaps)—especially when we first meet her? How does she approach her move to Ireland, the people, superstitions, the food?  When does it become evident that there is part of Lib's past she is not revealing to us? How reliable of a narrator is she?

2. Describe the Ireland that confronts Lib, the way in which Emma Donoghue presents the country in the 19th Century after the devastation of the infamous potato famine.

3. What about Anna O'Donnell? How does she differ from expectations, both yours and Lib's? When Lib first sees her, what is the state of Anna's health—does Lib find her as healthy as everyone claims she is?

4. Talk about the very complicated reasons for Anna's fasting. Is Anna too young to understand her decision? What responsibility do the family and the church have for Anna? What about the doctor's role?

5. As the days pass and Anna's condition deteriorates, Liz begins to feel she may be complicit in girl's demise. Is she?

6. Follow-up to Question #1: How does Lib change from who she was when she first ventured into Ireland? How would you describe her as you progress through the novel?

7. The novel brings up basic philosophical and religious questions, one of which is what it means to give up the most vital necessity of life in the name of something greater than yourself. Is it admirable, mad, selfish, narcissistic?

8. Follow-up to Question #7: What is the role of an outsider, like Lib? Does she have the right to intervene or an obligation to do so? What would you say or do to Anna?

9. The journalist asks Lib if she has "ever put to Ana, fair and square, that she must eat." Has Lib done so?

10. The novel has a gothic feel to it: spooky, menacing, even harrowing. What makes for the sinister atmosphere that pervades the novel?

11. Do you find interesting the clinical detail regarding the descriptions of Anna's symptoms and the theory and practice of nursing in the 19th century?

12. Discuss the book's title. What are the multiple meanings of "The Wonder"?

13. Do you see any parallels between this story and Donoghue's earlier book, Room? Think of small confined spaces, children, fragmented time, inner strength, and the power of love.

(Questions issued by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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