Good Mother, Bad Mother

Emma Donoghue’s novel makes the case for loving hearts over biological ties

Before I had children, I wondered if I could ever love a child as much as I adored my cat. Absurd, I know, but I remembered that embarrassingly naive attitude in reading The Wonder because the power of the mother-child bond is a motivating force in Emma Donoghue’s fiction. Yet, here is the twist: the Irish-Canadian writer is not interested in conventional takes in which Mamma falls desperately in love with baby.

In her recent novels, Room, Frog Music and The Wonder (which was shortlisted for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller prize), Donoghue presents alternative visions of motherhood. Herself the mother of two children raised in a same-sex relationship, Donoghue believes the mother-child bond is complicated and nuanced. She twirls Wordsworth’s aphorism “the child is father to the man” into a feminist meme, showing us that mother and child, however they come together, are equal participants in a...