Emma Donoghue stuns again! I had read Room in the past and made the mistake of thinking this book might be along the same lines. It was not. The only way that they compare is that the main character has had an adverse experience before the novel begins, the focus on the strength of a child, and an underlying theme on whether or not a certain set of parents “deserve” their children.
Lib is a nurse assigned to observe Anna, an eleven year old who is gaining notoriety for sustaining without food for months. The last thing she ate was a communion host at church a few months ago and claims to have been living on “manna from heaven”. Lib is an English atheist without a family who now has to work for a very Catholic family and her colleague is a nun. She is determined to have this assignment end early by finding the truth behind this obvious lie from a child. As more and more shifts go by, she begins to wonder if the child is even lying at all.
Anna is a young child who is very strong in her faith (she prays the same prayer 33 times a day, along with the rosary at night) yet is losing strength in her body. She does not complain, instead believes the fast from food is worth the struggle if it means her dear brother Pat can be saved from purgatory. “Poor Pat” died quickly from a stomach illness months before the novel begins. The illness was so swift that he was not able to confess his sins before his death and therefore believed to be stuck in purgatory until his family prays enough for him to be released into heaven. Can Anna’s love for her brother keep her strength going long enough for Pat’s release?
Anna’s parents, the O’Donnells, are grieving the loss of their son, yet trying their best to maintain their farm and handle Anna’s new fame. People from far distances stop by their humble home just to catch a glimpse of her. Mrs. O’Donnell especially seems to enjoy the visitors and Mr. O’Donnell prefers to keep working rather than entertaining. But when Lib insists that the visitors be turned away for the duration of this observation, Mrs. O’Donnell makes her disapproval very clear.
All of these factor into why I really enjoyed this novel. The culmination was very effective, as was the character development of Lib in particular. There were a few surprising pieces of the novel that add depth to the characters. There were a few characters that did not turn out to be who I was expecting them to be. Emma Donoghue has a way of describing day-to-day routines in a way that is unexpectedly intriguing. Furthermore, the evolution of the daily routines disguise the change in path towards the uphill road leading to the conclusion.
Please note: a copy of this novel was generously provided via the publisher through NetGalley.