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  1. Emma Donoghue is coming to speak in Dallas at the end of this month, so for Christmas, I bought my mother this book and tickets to the lecture. And then I read the book. Lib Wright is a nurse who trained under Florence Nightingale during the Crimean campaign, which means she's among the first nurses that existed once nursing became seen as a calling and profession. How she decided to go to train as a nurse is revealed slowly in the book and I won't spoil it here, but it's important to know since it affects her approach to her work. The Crimean campaign has ended and so Lib is now working in England at a hospital and is not very happy. So she accepts a 2-week assignment to watch over a young Irish girl, Anna O'Donnell who claims to have survived and flourished despite not eating for 4 months. The leaders in Anna's community have banded together to hire two "watchers" in order to determine whether or not it is true that a miracle has occurred or is occurring. Lib is selected because of her training with Miss N (as Lib calls Miss Nightingale). The other "watcher" is a nun. Lib arrives with all the prejudices against the Irish that I guess were common at the time, including deep suspicion of any religion, but especially Catholicism. You can imagine how popular that is in the family and community. And her prejudices cause her to misread all sorts of things, which is clearly not obvious to her, but also not always obvious to the reader. Fortunately, Lib is trained to approach things as a scientist and so she works her way through to what's going on and evaluating the characters more accurately at the same time you do. It was really hard to be certain who was being helpful and who was a hindrance for Lib and for me as the reader. In this, Lib is helped by a young reporter from Dublin who has been sent by his editor to find out more about the story. I really liked this book and could not wait to get back to it when something irritating like work or family life interfered with my reading. It was compulsively readable and I kept wondering how in the world it was going to be resolved. I didn't love the resolution--seemed a tiny bit melodramatic--but it made me happy. Highly recommend. Very different from Room, except that it focuses on a child who is in peril and the woman who tries to help her. But that's a very superficial resemblance.
  2. review of The Wonder by Emma Donoghue The Wonder is the latest novel by author Emma Donoghue and it sees a nurse, Lib Wright, travel from a hospital in England to the Irish Midlands in the 1860s. She has been chosen for this position because of her experience in the Crimean War as one of Florence Nightingale's volunteer nurses but is unclear hat her role will undertake only that it is for a specified period of a fortnight. When Lib arrives, she is filed in about the role and what it entails, to watch a mysterious girl that has gone without any food for 4 months since April. Is the girl, Anna O'Donnell a medical miracle, a curiosity or a fraud, imposter, liar. Lib's role is to watch her in shifts of 8 hours with the other watcher, Sister Michael. There are other characters in it, Anna's family is her overpowering mother Rosaleen and a relative Kitty who in the words of Lib, a slavey. In the background as a low-key figure is Anna's father Malachy, he tends to be in the periphery of the novel but considering the historical time, this is understandable and the departed brother of Anna's, Pat who despite not being there, plays an importune role to Anna. There is the priest, Mr Thaddeus and the doctor, Dr McBearty who both are membership of the committee who has hired both Sister Michael. Another main character being the Micky Byrne who has been sent down by one of the newspapers he writes for, The Irish Times (He provides to Lib details of what he writes and the various slants that are required for each publication from unionist to nationalist point of view. The Irish Times being a moderate point of view) and there are regular visitors to see the miracle child abstaining from food for four months without showing any signs of such I found this slow to get into this novel to begin with but when I did, I found the novel to be very compelling reading. However I did think it kind of ran out of steam towards the end, which was a little bit disappointing to me. Overall I thought that this was a very good novel, early on I thought maybe *** then based on middle section ***** but my final rating is ****
  3. Most people do a double-take when they first hear what Emma Donoghue's Booker 2010 longlisted novel Room is about. A work of fiction based on the cases of Elizabeth Fritzl, Natascha Kampusch and other unfortunate women who have been held in captivity by a man who sexually abuses them, it is a subject that makes most people recoil. Could Donoghue tackle the subject without sounding like a salacious tabloid, gratuitously poring over horrific details? The answer is yes, but Room remains a harrowing and disturbing read. Narrated in the first-person by the five year-old son, Jack, of the entrapped woman, known only as Ma, who was snatched off the street seven years previously at the age of nineteen, the novel is divided into sections. Thankfully only around a third of the story is devoted to the time Ma and Jack spend in the fortified shed which serves as their prison, the eponymous Room. The rest of the novel deals with the adjustments Ma and Jack have to make when they escape, and the problems they face. This decision to limit the amount of space spent in the claustrophobic Room is a wise one; any longer spent lingering there, or any more detail of the oppressor, Old Nick, and his abuse of Ma would have inexorably led to the novel becoming a fictionalised misery memoir basking in its own stew of horror. But Donoghue has not only shown good judgement in minimising the time set in Room, she has also researched her subject impeccably. The two third of the story covering Ma and Jack's first few weeks of freedom in the outside world are so plausible and diligently dealt with that they read almost like a case history in a psychiatric manual. The whole is almost wholly fascinating but also deeply disturbing. The voice of Jack is a real achievement. Donoghue's own experiences of parenthood have obviously helped her nail the comments made and questions asked by children of this age, and Jack emerges as a lovable child, curious and intelligent. This normality makes his abnormal experiences more jarring. Goosepimples rose on my arms when Jack's chatty voice described how he would be put to bed in the wardrobe when Old Nick visited in the evenings, and how from there he counted the creaks of the bed before Old Nick's gasp. The only gratuitous touch for me was Jack's familiarity with the words for female and male genitals: abused children are sometimes inappropriately familiar with these terms but it's difficult to imagine that Old Nick would use these terms despite his repeated raping of Ma since he obeyed Ma's orders to keep away from Jack. It's therefore unlikely that he would use textbook anatomical names (and who uses them when having sex?), and they struck me as a rare instance of Donoghue trying to shock without a credible reason. Ma and Jack spend their time in Room watching TV and devising games, toys and activities from the objects around them. Each weekday when Old Nick is at work, they spend time fruitlessly screaming in an attempt to be heard by a passer-by, although Jack thinks this is just a game. Until Jack turns five, Ma has tried to cushion Jack's experience by telling him that most of the places and objects he sees on TV doesn't exist in the real world: ' Houses are like lots of Rooms stuck together, TV persons stay in them mostly but sometimes they go in their outsides and weather happens to them.' And: 'Ships are just TV and so is the sea except when our poos ... arrive... Forests are TV and also jungles and deserts and streets and skyscrapers and cars. Animals are TV except ants and Spider and Mouse, but he's gone back now.' What lifts Donoghue's novel way above other tales of abuse, fictional or factual, is the intelligence with which she deals with Ma and Jack's problems post escape. As well as the pressures of the paparazzi, prurient chat shows and TV news stations, Ma and Jack are faced with many stresses which they find hard to take. Ma is made to feel guilty about some of her choices, Jack longs for the security of Room, and both suffer psychiatric and physical hurdles. Donoghue has researched the post captivity syndrome so thoroughly that she mentions problems with which only professionals dealing with these cases are familiar, like depersonalisation, depression and even visuo-spatial adjustments to the larger world in a child who has spent his entire life cooped up - Jack notes that figures through a window are 'tiny, like fairies', and Ma has to explain about perspective; he also repeatedly bumps into objects, unused as he is to negotiating unfamiliar furnished spaces. Donoghue also captures well the fear of ostensibly benign activities like walking down stairs or getting rained on which a child brought up in a tiny space will experience. Ultimately, the novel is rendered palatable mainly by the charm of the fresh, unjaded eye of a child ('There's a dog crossing a road with a human on a rope', 'Persons are always saying pop or hop when it's something they want to pretend is fun') which crops up on every page. If Donoghue hadn't invented Jack, the story would have been too bleak to stomach, however well it was executed. Donoghue has transformed a heart-wrenchingly ugly subject into a novel that sparkles with life and hope.
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