May’s book: The Wonder by Emma Donahue

This month, we are looking at Irish authors. We had a number of great recommendations but the book we’re reading this month is:

The Wonder by Emma Donahue

 

An eleven-year-old girl stops eating, but remains miraculously alive and well. A nurse, sent to investigate whether she is a fraud, meets a journalist hungry for a story.

Set in the Irish Midlands in the 1850s, Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder – inspired by numerous European and North American cases of ‘fasting girls’ between the sixteenth century and the twentieth – is a psychological thriller about a child’s murder threatening to happen in slow motion before our eyes. Pitting all the seductions of fundamentalism against sense and love, it is a searing examination of what nourishes us, body and soul.

 

Other books on the list this month: 

  • Walk the Blue Fields by Claire Keegan
  • The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
  • A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle
  • The Gathering by Anne Enright
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April’s meeting

For the first time in what seems like ages, it was warm enough to hold book club al fresco. And so we all gathered on the wonderful terrace of Le Lacustre, joined for the first time by Veronika and Moritz, and discussed The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

As we’re coming up to book club’s 5th birthday, we started the conversation with a little reminiscing – when did we first come to book club and what was the first book we read with the group? Memories of books good and bad came flooding back. If you’d like to know what books we’ve read, there’s a lovely list here.

I had high hopes for this book. Having read it before (several times) and loved it each time, I was confident that the rest of book club, doyens of literary taste, would love it too. I was not disappointed. The scores ranged from 7 to 9, giving an impressive average of 7.7 (placing it smack bang between Oryx and Crake and Out of Africa).

It seemed the group loved the mystery and drama of the novel (although some felt it was a bit too dramatic) Some believed it was enveloping and intriguing. Others felt it was contrived. A mixture of reviews, but all felt it was certainly well worth reading.

The Shadow of the Wind is a strange book in the fact the group didn’t feel it fit into any particular genre. There are obviously gothic themes throughout the novel but it’s also a mystery cross coming of age novel. We discussed the name of the book and explored the reasons behind the title. Someone in the group pointed out that shadows play a large part throughout the novel – literal shadows in the darkness of Barcelona but also shadows of the past. How does that connect with the wind? Wind in itself doesn’t leave a shadow – you can feel it but can’t see it… could it be the same with the shadows controlling our key characters. Are they all affected by things they can feel but can’t see? Something to ponder late at night with a cognac, I think.

The group talked about the ending(s) of the novel. We felt there were two endings – Nuria’s letter and the resolution/tying together of all the loose ends, and then the epilogue where we find out what happens to all the various characters. There were only a couple of people in the group who were not surprised by the revelations of Nuria’s letter. There was quite a discussion about the relationship between Miguel and Julian – was it believable? Why would Miguel make such a sacrifice? Was Miguel in love with Julian?

There’s a great quote in the book from Julian Carax:

Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.

The group discussed this (at length). Some disagreed and said that books give you insights you might not have had otherwise. Books expand your horizons, they said, as what is in your head is shaped by who you are and what you know – books open up possibilities. The conversation turned to religious texts – do people see what they want to see in books?

Once we’d finished with religion, we moved onto discussions about the portrayals of women and men in the novel (book club isn’t just about wine and friendship, you know). We started talking about how all the male figures showed elements of the devil and all females were portrayed as angelic figures. Was it sexist book, asked one member? All the women were weak, scared, and objectified. The group felt this was a sign of the times during the Franco regime. Some thought there were strong women in the novel but this wasn’t a universal opinion. We discussed how revolutions and social change always seem to have huge knock on ramifications for women (we talked about Iran, Afghanistan, Spain and various others). We then got sidetracked by a conversation about the use of the word “mulatto” and phrases used to describe those of mixed origins.

We ended the discussion with an analysis of our favourite quotes (of which there are far too many for me to list here). All in all, a great discussion. Sadly, due to time, and lack of inclination, we didn’t get a chance to explore some of the other themes of the novel – father and son relationships, tragedy and redemption, love and friendship… next time!

And with that, my big book of notes in closed until next month. See you all then!

P.S. A big thanks to Bad Kelly for providing the notes for this month’s meeting!

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