Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Book Review: Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna's eyes we follow the story of the fateful year of 1666, as she and her fellow villagers confront the spread of disease and superstition. As death reaches into every household and villagers turn from prayers to murderous witch-hunting, Anna must find the strength to confront the disintegration of her community and the lure of illicit love. As she struggles to survive and grow, a year of catastrophe becomes instead annus mirabilis, a "year of wonders."

Inspired by the true story of Eyam, a village in the rugged hill country of England, Year of Wonders is a richly detailed evocation of a singular moment in history. Written with stunning emotional intelligence and introducing "an inspiring heroine" (The Wall Street Journal), Brooks blends love and learning, loss and renewal into a spellbinding and unforgettable read.

My Review: 
Anna lives in a 17th century Derbyshire village and takes in a lodger to help with the rent. Unknown to her, the tailor has the plague and dies there from it. In terror the Lord of the Manor takes his family and runs but the rector Michael persuades the village not to risk spreading it outside their borders, even as the plague claims victim after victim. People are scared and Anna helps Michael and his wife Elinor try to keep the people from losing their faith and humanity in the face of the disease.

Brilliant book! It has the suspense and tension of wondering who will live and die, as more people submit to the disease. It was fascinating to watch how a village tears itself apart with fear and suspicion, survivors resented by those who lose loved ones, people being blamed for spreading the disease, reckless but scared people wondering whether to break quarantine and escape before it is too late. Then there are the people on the outside of the quarantine who risk their lives to drop off supplies near the boundary to help keep the people alive.

I'm not usually a fan of historical fiction unless it has a Tudor setting so it is different from the books that I normally read. I first read it a few years ago when I joined Bookcrossing and was trying all kinds of new genres to see what I liked. This turned out to be a little gem which I now have on my own home bookshelves and hope to read again when my tbr eases! I loved the tension and drama as the plague gradually takes hold, and watching the differing attitudes of the people as they cope with a disaster.

I did object to the name of the book. Well, object is a strong word so let me clarify. To me having the title as Year of Wonders sounds like a sweeping historical romance, bright and breezy with love and fun throughout. And that could not be further from the story of a town destroyed by plague. Had i not read the blurb, the title alone would have made me skip on by. I wonder how many people have done that?

I had heard that this novel is based on real life events which I might investigate further when time allows.

Great compelling read, recommended for fans of historical fiction or those interested in reading about the plague.
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