Browsing Tag


The Wonder

October 24, 2016

Dear Reader,

The topic of anorexia has shown up recently in several contemporary novels, including The Vegetarian and White is for Witching. In each of these novels the disorder is coded as something else, and once again, in The Wonder it shows up under a mediating guise. What links the three novels is the experience of watching death come slowly. The girls in these novels are starving themselves to death and the reader joins them for every agonizing detail of their decline. 28449257
The Wonder is the story of Lib Wright, an expert nurse and former pupil of Florence Nightingale. She is an Englishwoman contracted to come care for an eleven year old girl in rural Ireland. Anna, the child, has been declared a local “wonder.” For the community, the story hinges upon proving the child a miracle, thus bringing glory (and tourist dollars) into their minuscule Irish hamlet. It does not take long for Lib to realize that the child is unhealthy, but even her well-trained eye is not able to spot what the reader surely will: this child is dying in front of us. Lib struggles with her desire to not only prove that the child is sneaking food somehow but also to understand why a child would be trying to turn her body into a grotesque miracle.

The unravelling of that central mystery is lent compelling force by the fact that you know from very early on that Lib and Anna are running out of time. The community around them, from the parents to the doctor to the parish priest are all wholly unhelpful, having either devoted their total faith to the veracity of the miracle or subconsciously decided that the child’s potential death is worth the answers it would bring. Lib finds one ally in a rational Dublin reporter. His appraisal of the situation (one look at the child is enough for him) is what brings Anna’s mortal danger to Lib’s full attention.

In that detail lies my only real complaint about this novel. Lib does not understand what is happening to Anna’s body, even though it really should be obvious to a trained nurse, or to any person unfettered by the blinders of Catholicism. Lib allows herself to hope the child really is a miracle, since the alternative is so grim. What is so agonizing about her indecision is the countdown any modern reader will have going from chapter one. How many more days can Lib take to figure this out before it will be too late for her to do anything at all? Will she solve the mystery only after the child’s body is damaged beyond repair? Donoghue’s skill at depicting characters in tense torment is undeniable. I was ready to tear my hair out and scream at the book as Anna dwindled away.

I read the book straight through within approximately a day, truly unable to put it down. It has immense power as a narrative, invoking a host of real-life stories like Anna’s. Donoghue manages to sketch a portrait of the trauma that would inspire a 19th century child to descend into anorexia, embracing at every turn both historical accounts and modern echoes. Lib spends the novel just trying to understand why a girl would want to starve herself to the point of death, and hoping with all she has that finding the answer will break that awful spell. It will be a familiar feeling to many.

Skippy Dies

November 18, 2015

Dear Reader,

I have the good fortune to have maintained my literary contacts at Boston College, something that often leads me to books I would have missed otherwise. Such is the case with Skippy Dies, a near-perfect and heartrendingly poignant book by Irish author Paul Murray.Skippy Dies- TPIATI started this book the morning after meeting the author himself. He came to BC to give a reading from his new book, The Mark and the Void, and stayed to attend my favorite book group- Raidin the Wake. I might have mentioned it before but it deserves more than a mention. We read Finnegans Wake once a week, slogging through a few lovely pages and trying to glean some meaning from the possibly indecipherable pages. Paul Murray joined us for a session and drank with us at the pub afterward. Skippy Dies- TPIATBut more to the point, Skippy Dies is a fantastic novel. It is about the death of the main character, something the reader is well aware is going to happen even before he or she reads a single page. The novel chronicles the adventures in love, loss, speed, bungee jumping, World War I, school administration, and more of Skippy, Ruprecht, and Lori, exploring what happens to a whole community when one person dies tragically. It is also really funny, in case that wasn’t coming through.

His new novel just came out and should be arriving at my door by Friday- so look forward to a glowing review of that as well. Check this one out. Not only will it give you hipster Irish-lit cred, it will also give you the feels.

Happy Wednesday.

Boston Scones

September 7, 2015

Dear Friend,

A mouthful of warm cinnamon scone followed by a gulp of cold apple cider. The light is fading over Boston and I sit down to write this blog post- decently happy to be back home but needing something of a taste of Britain to bring back all the fun of the past three weeks. England and Ireland were so wonderful that it is all I can do not to pull up stakes and move lock, stock, and canopy bed to Dublin. But for now, I am a Bostonian. So when I decided to make scones I thought I would give them a New England twist. Thus cinnamon scones with apple cider.Cinnamon Scones- The Person I Am TonightThis recipe is super basic and easy, but also delicious.

You will need:

2 1/2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons of cold unsalted butter, chopped up into small pieces

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup milk

Heat your oven to 425 F

Put your flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and stir it up. Add the butter and work it in with your hands until you have a sort of finely granulated consistency. Don’t worry too much about over working the dough but also don’t get crazy with it.

Add sugar and stir a bit to mix it in. Then add your milk and stir with a fork until dough forms. Form the dough into a ball with your hands and then flatten it out to about a six inch circle. It should be a few inches thick, depending on how big you want your scones. Then cut out six-eight circles and put them on your ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle cinnamon on the top, bake 12-14 min or until you think they are done.
Cinnamon Scones- The Person I Am Tonight

Cinnamon Scones- The Person I Am Tonight

Cinnamon Scones- The Person I Am TonightAnd now here I sit eating one, as I write this post. There’s some leftover- feel free to drop by 🙂 Glad to be back with you again. More England reminiscences to follow, undoubtedly.