“The Wonder” is a complex story about an 11 year old child, Anna, believed to be a spiritual Wonder for her seeming ability to exist without eating. The story takes place in a small town in Ireland in the late 1800s, where a committee is established to effectively authenticate the Wonder. The committee hires two nurses to observe Anna 24 hours a day for two weeks to confirm that the child in fact does not eat.
One of the nurses retained is a nun from a nearby convent, who believes in the possibility of religious miracles and more significantly believes in following instruction. The other nurse, Lib, is from England and studied nursing under Florence Nightingale. Lib is not Catholic, has no religious beliefs and follows only her own instruction. To say she is skeptical of organized religion and the idea that a person, let alone an 11 year old child, could survive without food, may be an understatement, although her skepticism is tested in many ways.
Anna is a charming sensitive child who spends much of her day quoting scripture. People come from near and far to see the Wonder, and when asked how she survives, Anna responds “I live on manna from heaven.” Anna and Lib develop a close relationship throughout the novel.
The novel is complex in that it addresses difficult issues such as religion, gender roles, science, education and poverty. The novel raises questions about the medical profession in terms of its ethics, training and the compassion of its providers. In speaking to another character in the novel, Lib explains the relationship between patient and medical professional as follows: “It seems to come naturally, to care more about the individual than the crowd. ..[t]hat’s why Miss–the lady who trained me…wouldn’t allow us to sit down beside a particular patient and read to him and so on. Said it could lead to attachment.” The novel also raises interesting issues about journalistic integrity and responsibility.
It is impossible to say much more about the story without giving away its many twists and turns. The characters, as well as the themes of the novel, are perspicacious, although the novel suffers from slow development of the story and characters, repetitiveness and the all too neat and convenient ending. I’ve read worse but I’ve definitely read better.
If you want to read this novel by the author of “Room”, you can reserve a copy at the Cuyahoga county public library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11213182__Sthe%20wonder__P0%2C5__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold