You’ve got to hand it to author Emma Donoghue. Crafting a novel based on the many cases of “fasting girls” reported across the world from the 16th to the 20th centuries is no easy task. These events wherein women and girls, often prepubescent, who claimed to live without food for months or even years. Whether it was anorexia, religious mania or entrepreneurial spirit that was driving them, they drew donations from curious visitors and fascination from doctors, scientists and priests, keen to discover if they could really be living on air, light or the love of God.
Sounds intriguing, right?
Too bad the story falls into a generic romantic dalliance between a well-trained, intelligent nurse (an underling of Florence Nightingale herself) and an overly ambitious reporter trying to crack the case of Anna O’Donnell, the local fasting girl. I fully support u-turns in narratives. I like being surprised by a characters unexpected flaw or a tragic event in their past. I’m even a fan of a surprise lost child or resurgence of a long since-considered dormant patriarchal figure. But when Donoghue veers her novel into a power struggle between a rigid nurses’ and her quest for love instead of focussing on the tragic tale of the fasting girl, I began to roll my eyes. And they kept rolling.
I’m sure I’m the only one of the few who’ve read “The Wonder” and didn’t like it. I’m ok with that. I think it’s cowardly of an author to fall into familiar and somewhat staid plot tropes to entertain the reader. If you’re brave enough to tackle a phenomenon entrenched in religion and superstition, then stick with it to the end.
Needless to say, I found “The Wonder” to be everything but wonderful. Cliched, tacky, and extremely regressive, Emma Donoghue’s newest novel gets no accolades from me.