by Geraldine Brooks
(author’s website: http://geraldinebrooks.com/)
From the back cover:
When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated mountain village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna’s eyes we follow the story of the plague year, 1666, as her fellow villagers make an extraordinary choice: convinced by a visionary young minister, they elect to quarantine themselves within the village boundaries to arrest the spread of the disease. But as death reaches into every household, faith frays. When the villagers turn from prayers to murderous witch-hunting, Anna must confront the deaths of family members, the disintegration of her community, and the lure of illicit love. As she struggles to survive, a year of plague becomes instead an annus mirabilis, a “year of wonders”.
I borrowed Year of Wonders from the library on a whim, but I am very glad that I did. The blurb reproduced above feels a little misleading to me as Year of Wonders is much slower paced than it implies, and there is less witch-hunting and illicit love than is suggested, but I think that is very much to the good (‘illicit love’ always sounds so tawdry). Much of the book is concerned with the day-to-day struggles of 17th century English rural life, which is then compounded with the extra challenges of quarantine, falling population, isolation and social breakdown. Like Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, the beautiful evocations of the seasons and landscape contribute greatly to the story, and there is again a sense of claustrophobia, this time from the village’s quarantine.
Again, like Burial Rites, Brooks has clearly carried out a lot of research into the era, as well as the village of Eyam in Derbyshire, a village which did voluntarily put itself into quarantine in 1665-1666 to contain the plague. Brooks has even used names of some of Eyam’s inhabitants in the novel, but only as background characters and where some basic details were known. Michael Mompellion, the minister in Year of Wonders is based on the real life minister of Eyam, but Brooks respectfully changed his name as she has had to create much of the plot (pp. 308-9).
Anna Frith is a wonderful heroine, and the novel follows her growth and setbacks as she discovers her inner strength and sense of purpose, knowing that these are things that she would likely have never have discovered if not for the plague breaking down society. As you may have gathered, if you enjoyed Burial Rites then you should definitely read Year of Wonders and vice versa. If you are hoping for some intense witch trials or scandalous love affairs, then this is probably not the book for you, whatever the blurb might say. Year of Wonders might appeal to anyone with a fancy for apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic fiction where the focus is on broken societies.
Year of Wonders fulfils the #female author, #fiction book, #author new-to-me tags of the Aussie Author Challenge 2015.
So far I have read:
5 books by a female author
1 book by a male author
4 non-fiction books
2 fiction books
6 books by an author who is new to me
3 books published in 2014 or 2015