Wednesday, September 18, 2019
Read by Kate Lock
Published September 2016 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library
An English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle - a girl said to have survived without food for months - soon finds herself fighting to save the child's life.
Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale's Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.
I've only just finished this book this morning, racing to the end before my loan expired. I'm certain the book suffered from the fact that I had to listen to it, much of the time I had it, at 1.5 speed. While I often felt as if the book were going nowhere and I just wanted Donoghue to get on with it, I attribute much of that to the fact that I was feeling a rush to get through the book. Why do all of my library loans have to come in sooner than I am planning for them and why does there always seem to be at least one person waiting to get ahold of the book so that I can't renew it?!
On the other hand, perhaps Donoghue meant to do that, meant to have readers understand the long days stuck in one room, the slow dying of little Anna, the hours for Lib to do nothing but go inside her own head. And, to be fair, it did take some time for Lib to reach her various conclusions about what was happening and who was at fault. Here is where Donoghue was a bit of a master mystery writer - Lib invariably came to her conclusions as she pondered what someone had told her earlier, things the reader was privy to and might have caught earlier than Lib. I never did, but I always recalled what had been said.
That having been said, the last two hours of the book races along, with secrets being revealed left and right. Then I so wished I could slow the book down and really enjoy the revel and be able to get caught up in the tension. The lesson here is this - if you decide to read or listen to this book, take your time and don't give up on it.
Donoghue throws organized religion (particularly the Catholic faith with its miracles and sainthood) and the medical profession of the 19th century, under the bus. And then backs the bus back up over them. While she does let the village priest and a nun who is also keeping watch with Lib up off the ground to brush themselves off, the dogma of religion and the village doctor with his antiquated ways don't fare well.
Through all of this, Donoghue also manages to educate readers about Ireland's potato famine and about Florence Nightingale. Nightingale became known as "The Lady With The Lamp" because of the rounds she made of soldiers at night. This has always conjured up, in my mind, a warm, compassionate woman who offered the soldiers kindness as well as care. Donoghue uses Lib to show us that, while Nightingale was among the first to recognize the importance of sanitary conditions and proper living conditions and was instrumental in turning nursing into a revered profession, her emphasis was on keeping a professional distance and not becoming so entangled with patients that their care suffered. I certainly had expected, when I picked this book up, to learn so much or to have it leading me to do more research. You know how I love that in a book!
The ending of the book was a little too neat and tidy for me while, at the same time, leaving me frustrated that nothing seemed to have been learned by those in Anna's village who encouraged her fasting.