The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
I think Emma Donoghue likes to think herself out of small, tight spaces. She brought us the bestselling Room and now The Wonder. Both stories put their characters into incredibly small physical spaces with what seems to us impossible chances and carries us right to the very end.
In The Wonder, English nurse Lib Wright is hired to sit with eleven year old Anna O’Donnell. Anna, it seems to the entire village is living miraculously without food. She was last seen taking food four months before and has since been living on what she calls manna from heaven. The town council wants to make sure there is nothing untoward going on and hires two people to sit with Anna for two weeks. Every minute and action must be observed. Anna must be proven to be either miraculous or cheating.
Anna and her parents live in a small, thatch roofed, dirt floored Irish cottage in a small village. Anna is confined to the one bedroom in the cottage. Upon meeting her for the first time, Lib inspects every nook, cranny and crevice in Anna’s room. She restricts visits from visiting pilgrims, fights off reporters from the newspapers and watches, along with a local nun who is the other observer.
As the days pass, the weakened Anna grows weaker and seems to welcome the prospect of death in atonement for her brother who died quickly and without benefit of confession. She believes him to be in purgatory and her actions will rescue him into heaven. No amount of begging will convince Anna to eat a bite.
As the days pass, Anna and Lib become close, the village elders more suspicious and the one reporter Lib uses as a sounding board starts to make sense. And Anna grows weaker while we watch.