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The Wonder: A Novel by Emma Donoghue

The Wonder: A Novel by Emma Donoghue of Bedlam Hospital. While there is a disconcerting gap between Lizzie’s narra- t ing voice (“He is not the most effusive of gentlemen”; “If she could but guess the real reason for my discomt fi ure”) and her humble origins and lack of education, a brief and surprising epilogue both addresses this apparent lapse and lends the novel a welcome if regrettably belated depth. This little fiction will please lovers of early modern literature, but they are unlikely to confuse it with literary fiction. — Stephen M. Fallon doi 10.1215/0961754X-4254192 Emma Donoghue, The Wonder: A Novel (New York: Little, Brown, 2016), 304 pp. Informed by research into the Irish potato famine, the role of Florence Night - ingale’s nurses in the Crimea, and nineteenth- century Irish Catholicism and folklore, Donoghue’s The Wonder is a historical novel, based on the often sensa- tionalist stories of fasting girls that proliferated in Europe from the later Middle Ages. Such claims of miraculous inedia are found not only from the sixteenth century onward, as Donoghue states in an acknowledgment, but also from the thirteenth century or even earlier. They received many different interpretations by contemporaries. Although sometimes hailed as miracles, a number of the fasts caused the death of the faster, were given a naturalistic interpretation, or were unmasked as frauds. In propulsive prose, Donoghue tells the story of the nurse Lib Wright, hired to watch a fasting child in order to test the claims of family, villagers, and clerics that she lives without food. Donoghue gives a picture of the impoverished Irish countryside so graphic that the reader seems to smell the bogs and taste the damp bread. Her sketches of class relations, nationalism, and clerical hierar - chy convince and disturb. The characters she draws in great detail are nuanced, convincing, and heartbreaking, as is her picture of the horrors of Catholic piety, with the cover- ups of incest and child abuse it has sometimes produced. The denouement is, however, abrupt, overheated, and unconvincing, both medically and devotionally. It is hard to believe that the eleven- year- old child Anna, who is steeped in Catholic spirituality and theology, could so easily accept the nurse’s c fi tion of holy milk that enables change of identity or that a faster whose body has broken down to such an extent could or would so easily swallow food. Non- e theless, the tension builds with enormous force, and however implausible the resolution, the reader, who has come to care about Anna and her nurse, cannot help rejoicing in the happy ending. — Caroline Walker Bynum doi 10.1215/0961754X-4254204 Downloaded from https://read.dukeupress.edu/common-knowledge/article-pdf/24/1/175/518255/0240175.pdf by DEEPDYVE INC user on 22 August 2019 L i t t l e R e v i e w s 175 http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Common Knowledge Duke University Press

The Wonder: A Novel by Emma Donoghue

Common Knowledge , Volume 24 (1) – Jan 1, 2018

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Copyright
Copyright © 2017 Duke University Press
ISSN
0961-754X
eISSN
1538-4578
DOI
10.1215/0961754X-4254204
Publisher site
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Abstract

of Bedlam Hospital. While there is a disconcerting gap between Lizzie’s narra- t ing voice (“He is not the most effusive of gentlemen”; “If she could but guess the real reason for my discomt fi ure”) and her humble origins and lack of education, a brief and surprising epilogue both addresses this apparent lapse and lends the novel a welcome if regrettably belated depth. This little fiction will please lovers of early modern literature, but they are unlikely to confuse it with literary fiction. — Stephen M. Fallon doi 10.1215/0961754X-4254192 Emma Donoghue, The Wonder: A Novel (New York: Little, Brown, 2016), 304 pp. Informed by research into the Irish potato famine, the role of Florence Night - ingale’s nurses in the Crimea, and nineteenth- century Irish Catholicism and folklore, Donoghue’s The Wonder is a historical novel, based on the often sensa- tionalist stories of fasting girls that proliferated in Europe from the later Middle Ages. Such claims of miraculous inedia are found not only from the sixteenth century onward, as Donoghue states in an acknowledgment, but also from the thirteenth century or even earlier. They received many different interpretations by contemporaries. Although sometimes hailed as miracles, a number of the fasts caused the death of the faster, were given a naturalistic interpretation, or were unmasked as frauds. In propulsive prose, Donoghue tells the story of the nurse Lib Wright, hired to watch a fasting child in order to test the claims of family, villagers, and clerics that she lives without food. Donoghue gives a picture of the impoverished Irish countryside so graphic that the reader seems to smell the bogs and taste the damp bread. Her sketches of class relations, nationalism, and clerical hierar - chy convince and disturb. The characters she draws in great detail are nuanced, convincing, and heartbreaking, as is her picture of the horrors of Catholic piety, with the cover- ups of incest and child abuse it has sometimes produced. The denouement is, however, abrupt, overheated, and unconvincing, both medically and devotionally. It is hard to believe that the eleven- year- old child Anna, who is steeped in Catholic spirituality and theology, could so easily accept the nurse’s c fi tion of holy milk that enables change of identity or that a faster whose body has broken down to such an extent could or would so easily swallow food. Non- e theless, the tension builds with enormous force, and however implausible the resolution, the reader, who has come to care about Anna and her nurse, cannot help rejoicing in the happy ending. — Caroline Walker Bynum doi 10.1215/0961754X-4254204 Downloaded from https://read.dukeupress.edu/common-knowledge/article-pdf/24/1/175/518255/0240175.pdf by DEEPDYVE INC user on 22 August 2019 L i t t l e R e v i e w s 175

Journal

Common KnowledgeDuke University Press

Published: Jan 1, 2018

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