Lib Wright, a nurse trained by Florence Nightingale in the Crimea, has been hired to “watch” Anna O’Donnell, an eleven-year-old who lives in the middle of Ireland in a tiny “village”. Anna has been on a fast for four months, taking no nourishment other than water, yet she is not wasting away. Lib’s “watch” along with a Nun (also a nurse), takes place in the hut of Anna’s family. Lib begins her new job with the single reason of catching out Anna’s fakery. In fact, I had a hard time even liking, much less sympathizing with Lib in the beginning of the novel. However, Donoghues’ plot was so compelling that I simply had to keep on reading.
Over the course of the two weeks that Lib’s watch is to take, she not only changes her opinion of Anna herself, but also undergoes a change within herself. After all, Anna is an eleven-year-old girl with no guile in her heart, a true devotion to Mary, and a strong belief in the Catholic church.
This novel is a testament to what faith, and the need to preserve a good family name will do to some people. It deals with the effects of the Potato Famine in Ireland, how society breaks down, and the mind-numbing poverty these people lived with. I truly found this to be both disturbing and a “wonder” in more than one way. I highly recommend this book. Well done, Donoghue!