Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks

Genre: Historical Fiction
Synopsis:  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.


Review: If I was still doing half marks, I definitely would have given this novel 4.5 stars. It was so close to being 5 - but there were a few little niggles that prevent me from honestly saying I enjoyed this to the extent of other books I've rated 5 stars.

First off I have to say that the writing is beautiful in this novel. It's one of those books where, after reading a few chapters, you can relax into the knowledge that even if you're not entirely crazy about whatever happens, it will at least be a genuinely pleasurable reading experience. I've read a lot of duds lately, and this one really reminded me that there are genuinely excellent books out there. And also that I love historical fiction; I've really got to read more of it.

As for the plot, I'm fascinated by how much of this is based in actual history. Several of the names of actual victims of the Plague in this little English town have been used, or slightly reworked, as well as some of the facts about the historical event. I found this really fascinating, and am actually now interested to go visit the little town whose claim to fame, somewhat unfortunately, is the Plague. It is however, also the story of a congregation who chose to limit the spread of the disease as much as possible, and it is the horror of the disease, versus the natural fear of it and instinct to run, versus moral duty, that makes this a heart-wrenching and compelling novel.

Place all of the above in the context of a very superstitious and religious community, and you get a really fascinating insight to the religious and social life of long ago, Amidst the terrifyingly rapid spread of an incurable disease is the chaos of witch hunting, deadly mobs, and the attempts of a brave few to maintain order in the face of their society crumbling. Thinking about it now, this is an incredibly multi-faceted novel which is extremely well constructed.

So what are the niggles? Well, the two biggest ones are two events at the end - one completely unnecessary destruction of a good character, and the epilogue. Both completely unnecessary, and after having immersed myself in what had been such a wonderful, if searing, read, it wasn't fun to be skimming pages going 'wtf?' towards the end. All the same, highly, HIGHLY recommend this novel.

Rating: 4/5 

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