May is officially summer, right? Someone forgot to tell the weather gods of Lausanne for, just as book club started, the heavens opened, and once again we were thankful for the foresight of Alex and the Lacustre team for setting out table inside.
This month, we were joined by Jessica for the first time and were sitting to discuss The Wonder by Emma Donaghue.
It was somewhat unsurprising that this novel scored highly amongst the group. In the end, it scored a respectable 7.4. The average score was brought down by a couple of 5s and 6s – some felt the story was too flat with too much religion. Others felt it was built up but that the ending was a letdown. Those who enjoyed the book more praised the multiple layers, and the examination of the power of faith, family, and superstition
**WARNING, THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD**
We started the discussion looking at Lib and her evolution throughout the novel. She starts the book as a competent and observant nurse with a smidge of casual racism thrown into the mix. By the end of the two-week timescale (yes, two weeks!), she had completely changed. She had acquired herself a new Irish husband and child, she had started to understand the real situation in Ireland – not that everyone was lazy, hated food, or were liars – but simply that people were starving. In short, the stay in Ireland helped Lib mature, brought out her true character, and was one of the key progressions in the novel.
It was noted that Anna was the same age as the child Lib had lost. What difference did that make on the story? Obviously, this led to a much easier and closer connection between Lib and Anna but, more interestingly, Lib’s past life made decisions in her present much easier. For example, Lib had already run away from her old life which made it easy for her to persuade Anna to do the same.
The group felt that Anna had always been the weakest member of her family and therefore had always been manipulated by others. As a character, she did not go through the same development arc as others – she started sick and ended sick – she was used as a tool for the other people in her life and a way to tell a story. Some were disappointed in this as they felt that Anna had a wonderful potential to grow as a character – she was bright and sensitive and aware of what other people needed her to be.
We discussed Anna’s relationship with food and dogma. Anna uses her religious beliefs as a shield against what’s happened to her. She believes that her God wants her to reject food and she’s being praised for doing so. She isn’t old enough to question what’s happening to her but feels she should be punished for what happened to her as a child. This is borne out by the fact that both her mother and the priest ignored her accusations about her brother, and yet praises her starving.
We group continued to discuss a number of different issues from the book. Was the bother innocent? What led him to do what he did? Was he abused himself? Was the mother a glory hunter? How did she feel knowing her child was starving? Was she in denial? Was this a love story between Lib and Anna? What role did the nun play? Did she know what was happening at the end? Why were there so many pagan references? Should someone be punished for Anna’s death?
Of course, if you were at book club last month, you’ll know what we think about all those questions. If you didn’t make it… well, I’ll leave you make up your own mind!