This reading group guide for The Wonders includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
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travels deep into questions about the contemporary world that have concerned and moved me for many years. I wanted to ask: How are we to live in this brave new world? How are we to know one another?”
From the author of the “funny, irreverent, and highly entertaining” (Liane Moriarty, author of Big Little Lies
) The Fine Color of Rust
comes a brilliant new novel about a misfit trio who become instant international reality stars, probing the nature of celebrity, disability, and the value of human life.
Meet Leon (stage name: Clockwork Man), a nervous, introverted thirty-year-old man with a brass heart; Kathryn (stage name: Lady Lamb), a brash, sexy woman covered almost entirely with black, tightly furled wool; and Christos (stage name: Seraphiel), a vain performance artist who plays a winged god with the help of ceramic implants inserted between his shoulder blades. These are the Wonders, three extraordinary people whose medical treatments have tested the limits of the human body. When a canny entrepreneur brings them together, their glamorous, genre-defying, twenty-first-century circus act becomes a global sensation. But what makes them objects of fascination also places them in danger.
With warmth, humor, and astonishing insight, Paddy O’Reilly has written a wonderful novel for anyone who’s ever questioned the nature of fame, our kinship with the animal kingdom, and the delicate balancing act of life and death. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The Wonders
asks what makes someone a celebrity. Why do we follow the exploits of celebrities?
2. Paddy O’Reilly has created a world that seems very much like the world we live in now, but with characters whose bodies have been radically altered. According to much of her research, some of these procedures are not so different from some surgeries people undergo today. What do you think will happen with medical technology in the future?
3. The animals in The Wonders
are retired circus performers that have been given sanctuary. Consider how in today’s world some animals are used for scientific research and commercial product testing, and yet others are our beloved pets. What are your thoughts on our treatment of animals?
4. Leon is a shy man who must learn to present a confident public face when he is thrust into the world as a Wonder. We all have places where we ‘curate’ our image, such as Facebook or LinkedIn or online dating sites. How has the internet changed the way we present ourselves?
5. Kathryn has been reviled, then both adored and feared. O’Reilly has stated in an interview that the reaction to Kathryn is specific to her gender. What do you think O’Reilly meant? Why do you think Kathryn is treated differently because she’s a woman?
6. In The Wonders
, Christos uses his own body to express his artistic vision. Average people are also permanently altering their bodies to express themselves more than ever before. Why have body modifications, such as tattoos and piercings and implants, become so popular?
7. Leon ponders the disability activists who questioned the role of the Wonders, asking himself, “Were he and Kathryn and Christos, the beautiful monsters, making everything worse for the different ones who were not beautiful?” What do you think? Why do the disability activists take issue with the Wonders?
8. Public figures, like the Wonders, are always the subject of gossip and rumors about their private lives. Were you surprised by any of the rumors that the Wonders found themselves subjected to? If so, which ones and why?
9. The novel explores many ways in which we look at one another. Sometimes we are encouraged to look; sometimes we are told not to stare. Why do you think the public is so interested in looking at the Wonders? Were you surprised by their daily lives given their notoriety?
10. The three Wonders begin the book as disparate people thrown together by chance. In what ways do their relationships change? Do you think the Wonders function as a family? Explain your reasons.
11. Leon is a complex character and is oftentimes conflicted when making decisions. Despite his reluctance to speak to the media and his doubts about Rhona, why do you think Leon agrees to travel to Melbourne to meet with her? What do you think he expects from their first meeting? What is so different about Rhona and the possibilities she offers him that makes Leon want to work with her?
12. At one point, Kathryn refers to Leon as the Tin Man. What parallels can you see in The Wonders
and The Wizard of Oz
? What other parallels can you make among Christos, Kathryn, and Rhona?
13. The Wonders
raises questions about what it means to be normal. Are Leon, Christos, and Kathryn typically normal? How do you define normal
14. What do you think O’Reilly means when she calls Kathryn “a wonder of the consciousness”? Kathryn’s body is transformed too, so what sets her apart from Leon and Christos, who she describes as mere “wonders of the body”?
15. Leon, having nearly died twice already, lives with acute awareness of his mortality; it’s not until the end of the book that he seems to really live. How would you feel and what would you do if you knew you didn’t have much time left to live?