Many readers will know of Emma’s earlier book “Room” – from the movie adaptation if not from the book itself. Donoghue writes about interesting people, characters who have led or are leading a significant life.
It is with this in mind that we first meet Elizabeth Wright. A young widow, she had volunteered to part of Florence Nightingale’s nursing team out in the Crimea. In recent years she has been working in a large English hospital. It is with increasing trepidation she is transported to Athlone, a small town in the dead centre of Ireland, for a two week nursing job. She knows nothing of her patient or why the task is a defined period of s fortnight.
Finding herself lodging above a grocery store and not with a family as expected Lib begins to wonder what she has let herself in for. After a meeting with the local doctor Lib discovers that she and a nun have been hired to keep watch on a young girl of eleven. A local committee has been formed to valididate the claims that a young girl is living on water alone to no ill effects. Anna O Donnell claims to have taken no food since her eleventh birthday four months earlier but is thriving by the love of God and her devoutly Roman Catholic family.
After all that she has seen in the Crimea Lib has little time for religion or its briefs but is sure that the child cannot be surviving just on water alone. She and Sister Michael are to keep watch on the child night and day and document the state of the child’s health as well as anything she consumes or excretes. A healthy dose of scepticism drives Nurse Wright from the off as she dutifully records as much as she can about the child. As the days pass and she begins to form a bond with her charge the stronger the feeling she gets that everything is not as she was lead to believe
This is a beautifully written story set in mid nineteenth century rural Iteland. Just a decade on from the notorious potato famine that decimated the Irish population this is a portrait of life in a small countryside hamlet beset with superstitions about the Little People and living in the fear of God and the prospect of burning in hell for an transgressions against the Roman Catholic church.
As will all Donoghue’s books there is a real connection to the woes and worries of the child and the developing relationship between the nurse and the patient is so skilfully put together. It was a book that I was a little worried that I wouldn’t enjoy and in the end I just couldn’t put it down.
Supplied by Net Galley and Little Brown & Co in exchange for an honest review.
UK publication date: Sept 22 2016.