ElCicco #CBR4 Review#38: Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks
I am a huge fan of Geraldine Brooks’ novels and I think I have now read them all. Year of Wonders was her first novel. A journalist by trade, Brooks always does thorough research on the historical time periods she covers and often is inspired by an actual event in developing her plots. In Year of Wonders, Brooks imagines what actually happened in a plague village in England in 1666, where the populace agreed to quarantine themselves from neighboring villages and towns until the plague passed so as not to spread it. Two-thirds died and it is believed that the plague was introduced to village via a bolt of cloth.
The protagonist, Anna, has lost her sons, husband and a potential new spouse. As fellow villagers perish, she and some others manage not to catch plague (a wonder) and Anna finds herself doing work that she never would have imagined herself capable of doing (wonders!) such as learning herbs and healing, mining and befriending Elinor Mompellion, the educated wife of minister Michael Mompellion. Other wonders during the plague year include the way in which ideas concerning religion and faith change, how differences matter less, how some go mad and others take advantage of gullibility of poor villagers, how some with more were so generous while others were so cowardly.
I’m a big fan of Brooks’ novels. She goes to great trouble to learn the details of her time periods and creates interesting female characters, often women who desire knowledge and learning that is forbidden to them and who have to find unorthodox means of acquiring it. While the descriptions of the ravages of plague upon the body are disturbing, even more unsettling are the descriptions of the horrors that villagers perpetrated upon each other, in particular the punishments for suspected witchcraft. The ending of the novel surprised me a little, as it seemed a bit far fetched, but I’ve no doubt that her setting for it was accurately depicted.