There are two stories in this novel, but each one has been cut up, and the two sets of fragments shuffled together. They form a composite picture as frustrating, and as full of brilliant moments of illumination, as those church windows where conservators have reassembled the shards left behind by iconoclasts’ cudgels, making a collage of unrelated pieces ... Spanish author Elena Medel is a poet, and she has a poet’s preference for the significant moment over the sustained narrative ... Spanish author Elena Medel is a poet, and she has a poet’s preference for the significant moment over the sustained narrative ... The effect of this fragmentation is to make of these individual women’s lives a collective picture of working-class Spanish womanhood. With light touches Medel conveys gradual but tremendous change ... The book works best as a sequence of short stories. The passages when Medel carries us swiftly through the years become muzzy, but when she slows down and tightens her focus particular incidents shine out ... This is a book that evades glib summary. It is about poverty, but Alicia’s nature is distorted by being comparatively rich. It is about feminism, but the two most saintly characters are men ... Like the society it describes, Medel’s novel is harsh. It is sometimes confusing. It lapses into generalisations about sexual politics or capitalism. But like that smashed and remade stained-glass window, it has a boldly ingenious structure and flashes of beauty.
As these fragmented narratives elegantly graze each other without ever clicking into a fully formed picture, the two women’s lives are marked by suicide, foreclosures, menial labor, social immobility and overarching sadness ... [Medel's] poetic sensibility is evident in rhythmic, incantatory prose ably translated by Lizzie Davis and Thomas Bunstead, yet she also looks at the world through a good novelist’s magnifying glass ... This observation, like so many in The Wonders, derives its sense of wonder (a very wry, often downcast sense of wonder) not from lofty transcendence, but from the way the tiniest details of our lives are shaped by the realities of money. Yet as we are taken into María’s and Alicia’s histories, Medel probes deeper than mere economics ... not a loud, fizzy debut, and this is one of its strengths. It is a vivid and painfully intimate account of two easily overlooked lives. Medel paints a gray world of drudgery and solitude, yet she also makes room for her characters to grow into their power as women, a power they discover does not in fact lie in money.
Medel’s sensitive debut, charged with feminist insights but never losing sight of the particularities of its characters, weaves together the stories of two women whose deeper connection only becomes clear as the novel approaches its end ... Moving nimbly back and forth through time, from the sixties up until 2018, Spanish novelist Medel astutely examines the forces—political, economic, familial, and personal—that have shaped the two women’s richly detailed lives. Though penned in by class and gender, often in ways they do not recognize, Maria and Alicia come across not as simple victims but as struggling survivors, still open to change.
... remarkable ... Arresting characterizations and vivid prose fuel Medel’s searing look at the impact gender, class, and financial hardships have on working-class Spanish women’s lives as the country is buffeted by wider cultural shifts. It adds up to a powerful story.
... examines the lives of three generations of women in Madrid with an unsparing eye ... The translation from Spanish of Medel’s unvarnished look at three constrained lives is unsentimental and direct.