If you’re in need of a reading recommendation for the holidays, you’ve come to the right place! Check out our latest staff selection. Happy holidays — and happy reading!
Emma Donoghue blends fact and fiction in her compelling novel The Wonder (Little, Brown, 2016), a book based on the real phenomenon of nineteenth-century “fasting girls,” who attracted worldwide attention with claims of prolonged abstinence from food. Lib Wright, an English nurse who trained with Florence Nightingale, takes a temporary job in a desolate Irish village to conduct a scientific observation of 11-year-old Anna O’Donnell. Anna claims to have eaten nothing in the past four months.
Sharply rational (and not a little prejudiced against the Irish), Lib is convinced that the girl’s fast is a hoax. Anna, however, maintains that “manna from heaven” is her true source of nourishment, and pilgrims flock to see this wonder of faith made manifest on earth. As Anna rapidly deteriorates before Lib’s eyes, the nurse frantically casts about for a way to save her.
It quickly becomes obvious that something sinister is afoot in the O’Donnells’ claustrophobic household. Anna’s preoccupation with sin and expiatory prayer provides clues to the disturbing reasons behind her fast. However, the village elders are determined to keep their secrets, even at the possible cost of her life.
Donoghue weaves psychological and historical strands into an engaging narrative. This is a novel that reflects modern-day questions about women’s bodies and agency, along with the eternally tempting allure of fundamentalism.