As a child, home was home. Where ever mom and dad were–that was home. For me, it was where I was safe and loved. Where my room was, where I snuggled into read a book and fought with my brother. It was familiar and warm and, well, just home.
We moved a few times when I was a child — just regular moving. But that feeling was always there.
Two of the most memorable homes were in the country. A few acres and neighbors who were close enough, but not too close.
And then the teen years. The acres felt too big, the town too small. I wanted more (and partly because of me, but mostly because it made logistical sense with my parent’s business and where most of our activities were happening) we moved to the city (I won’t say big city, but it was a city, and it’s getting bigger all the time).
And, after graduating from there, I couldn’t wait to strike out on my own and get out of that city.
After many moves and many towns, I got married. And we began building out own home, a safe place for our girls.
It’s funny to think that as much as I wanted to get away from ‘home’ and the home town, I ended up in a place very similar. Maybe because it’s where I felt safe and loved. Where, for better or worse, they knew me best.
I think we’re giving our girls the same kind of smallish town, hometown feel that we grew up with (my husband grew up on a horse farm in New Jersey). I hope were giving them that same sense of security and love. Enough to make them want to leave the nest, but to know it’s here, filled with laughter and hugs.
Enough so they know that there is a place called home, and that they are always welcome (at least for the weekend).
Now, onto my review of The Wonder by Emma Donoghue.
Lib had a dizzying sense that time could fall into itself like the embers. That in these dim hints nothing had changed since the age of the Druids and nothing ever would. What was that line in the hymn they’d sung at Lib’s school? The night is dark, and I am far from home.
—Emma Donoghue, The Wonder
Deep in the heart of Ireland in the mid 1800’s lives a marvel of God’s love, or so we are to believe. Anna O’Donnell, eleven years-old, has lived off manna from heaven, eating nothing for months, drawing tourists and journalists to her family’s small cabin.
In order to substantiate the claims, a committee of village citizens has hired professionals to keep watch on the girl for two weeks. They call in a nun and Lib Wright, on of Florence Nightingale’s original nurses from the Crimean War (known as Nightingales).
Lib is suspicious of the claims, an agnostic (or maybe atheist) and non-Catholic. She’s scientific in her approach to the girl, checking every corner of the room in search for hidden food, taking notes on the girl’s condition day in and day out. Sitting with her for hours at a time, Lib is unable to avoid conversations with Anna. She discovers a quick mind and a clever, sweet girl.
Finding herself up against superstitious and devoutly Catholic villagers, Lib also must fight the blinders put up by the committee and Anna’s own family. All need it to be a miracle, bringing in tourists to their small village. But beyond that, they are devout Catholics, interested in sainthood for Anna. Nearly everyone involved is unwilling to see Anna as she is: swollen with dropsy, jaundiced, and dying as her body starves.
The town doctor believes she may be a medical miracle as well, thinking that she may be turning into a sort of plant, capable of living on air alone. The committee wants her to be a miracle, a martyr, a saint, in order to save their town. (Interestingly, the only two that seem to show real doubts about this course is the town priest and the nun.)
Lib is sure Anna is a hoax, and that her family is keeping the collections left by tourists. She watches Anna with detachment, unable to understand the child’s utter devotion to her Church. But when Anna’s health starts to fail, and no one will lift a hand to help, Lib starts to realize that she has to do something.
But will it be enough, and will it be in time?
I read a lot of books. And I get caught up in a large number of them. I fall for the characters, and then the stories. That’s the kind of reader I am.
And then I read a book with stark, beautiful prose. And I remember how much I love words. I remember that the best writers can tell a story with solid prose, rather than the flowery verbiage in many novels of late. I remember the words are the thing. With that kind of real, rugged prose, an author can do a better job of highlighting the characters and the story, taking the spotlight off the author’s ability to sprinkle a novel with their big, long descriptors.
Not that The Wonder is short on description. But it’s used to tell the story, not to draw attention to itself.
The story itself is completely gothic, using the committee and the town, their religion and superstitions, as the most horrific monsters of all. We watch as a group of zealots allow a young girl to waste away, and she continues to let it happen, because she’s a child and these people are supposed to love and protect her.
I could have done without the nod to romance for the cold-hearted Lib, although it did give us a chance to understand why she is so cold-hearted. And it does work — as she thaws concerning Anna, so she is drawn to the handsome journalist.
The other sticking point for me is Donoghue use of a convenient device for Anna’s fervor, making it just a little too pat and obvious. I really wish she would have stuck to the religious for Anna, making it a reaction to the very recent potato famine (which had ended just seven years earlier), the death of her brother from unknown maladies, and her love for God.
But, as I said, the prose is perfect and beautiful, highlighting the strong story and characters rather than hiding the flaws behind ornate wordage. The Wonder is historical fiction, psychological thriller, and gothic novel all rolled into one well-written bag of goodness.