Monday, July 24, 2017

19th Century Rural Ireland

Scanned through Emma Donoghue's 'The Wonder' (2016) that's set in 1859 rural Ireland. It's a story that takes its influences from the era's 'fasting girls'.  I didn't mind the story, but the pace was rather slow. The suspense wasn't duly held, and the twist at the end felt hurried. (Reviews here, here, here and here.)

Twenty-nine-year-old English nurse Elizabeth 'Lib' Wright took up a weird commission in a little Irish village for two weeks to watch over little Anna O'Donnell who had apparently not eaten for four months after her eleventh birthday. The nurse's job was to keep a medical journal and check on whether she was a fraud or she really could live on light, air and the love of God.

Lib had been hired by the local committee made up the town's prominent men who seemed to really want Anna to be a miracle and draw in visitors and pilgrims and their money. Anna was very pious, and claimed she survived on water and "manna from heaven". Lib was a woman of science, skeptical and rather contemptuous of the Irish and their beliefs; she didn't know what to make of it. Which child would choose to starve?

Science versus faith, superstition versus traditions. Then there was this reporter at the local paper William Byrne who later helped Lib. I suppose in that era, someone male always needs to appear to help a damsel in distress. We see Lib wrestle with an ethical dilemma. The final chapter, the epilogue held the twist to the whole novel, and shed new light on Anna's eventual death. Australia is also mentioned.

For a moment, Lib pictured the child's treasure chest, and then she realized he meant a coffin. Forty-six inches, she remembered from her first measurements of Anna. Barely more than four inches of growth for each year on earth. 
"I've been lying on my bed in there wondering about you, Lib Wright." 
Lib bristled. "What about me?" 
"How far will you go to save this girl?" 
Only when he asked it did she find she knew the answer. "I'll stop at nothing."

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