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Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague Paperback – April 30, 2002
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Geraldine Brooks's Year of Wonders describes the 17th-century plague that is carried from London to a small Derbyshire village by an itinerant tailor. As villagers begin, one by one, to die, the rest face a choice: do they flee their village in hope of outrunning the plague or do they stay? The lord of the manor and his family pack up and leave. The rector, Michael Mompellion, argues forcefully that the villagers should stay put, isolate themselves from neighboring towns and villages, and prevent the contagion from spreading. His oratory wins the day and the village turns in on itself. Cocooned from the outside world and ravaged by the disease, its inhabitants struggle to retain their humanity in the face of the disaster. The narrator, the young widow Anna Frith, is one of the few who succeeds. With Mompellion and his wife, Elinor, she tends to the dying and battles to prevent her fellow villagers from descending into drink, violence, and superstition. All is complicated by the intense, inexpressible feelings she develops for both the rector and his wife. Year of Wonders sometimes seems anachronistic as historical fiction; Anna and Mompellion occasionally appear to be modern sensibilities unaccountably transferred to 17th-century Derbyshire. However, there is no mistaking the power of Brooks's imagination or the skill with which she constructs her story of ordinary people struggling to cope with extraordinary circumstances. --Nick Rennison, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Discriminating readers who view the term historical novel with disdain will find that this debut by praised journalist Brooks (Foreign Correspondence) is to conventional work in the genre as a diamond is to a rhinestone. With an intensely observant eye, a rigorous regard for period detail, and assured, elegant prose, Brooks re-creates a year in the life of a remote British village decimated by the bubonic plague. Inspired by the actual town commemorated as Plague Village because of the events that transpired there in 1665-1666, Brooks tells her harrowing story from the perspective of 18-year-old Anna Frith, a widow with two young sons. Anna works as a maid for vicar Michael Mompellion and his gentle, selfless wife, Elinor, who has taught her to read. When bubonic plague arrives in the community, the vicar announces it as a scourge sent by God; obeying his command, the villagers voluntarily seal themselves off from the rest of the world. The vicar behaves nobly as he succors his dwindling flock, and his wife, aided by Anna, uses herbs to alleviate their pain. As deaths mount, however, grief and superstition evoke mob violence against "witches," and cults of self-flagellation and devil worship. With the facility of a prose artist, Brooks unflinchingly describes barbaric 17th-century customs and depicts the fabric of life in a poor rural area. If Anna's existential questions about the role of religion and ethical behavior in a world governed by nature seem a bit too sophisticated for her time, Brooks keeps readers glued through starkly dramatic episodes and a haunting story of flawed, despairing human beings. This poignant and powerful account carries the pulsing beat of a sensitive imagination and the challenge of moral complexity. (Aug. 6)Forecast: Brooks should be a natural on talk shows as she tells of discovering the town of Eyam, in Derbyshire, in 1990, and her research to unearth its remarkable history. With astute marketing, Viking will have a winner here. BOMC, Literary Guild and QPB featured alternates; 8-city author tour; rights sold in England, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
From that point you have my permission to imagine your own ending to the story , hopefully consistent with the main plot and time period. In my opinion a very good story went haywire for reasons unknown and tumbled into odd 'regency-like romance' territory. To be honest, I would have flung a 'book' against the wall, but since I was reading on my Kindle I quickly ruled that out. I do appreciate this author, and have read two other books by her. But I am sorely tempted to ask her "Why?"
I liked the writing style very much, apart from a bit of awkwardness at the beginning. The author did not make a huge attempt at sounding “period,” which was a good choice; the point of view was demarcated by what the first-person narrator was in a position to know and understand about her world, which set us sufficiently in context without the use of self-consciously obsolete phrasings. There was some lovely new vocabulary to learn—always a plus for me! And the descriptions were vivid and lyrical—and occasionally visceral, especially a scene in a mine.
For the most part, I felt the characters were well drawn and their actions made sense in context, though a few seemed to dance too much to the piping of the plot requirements. There were also a few more characters than could be followed with ease, though the number made sense because in a small village setting the heroine would naturally know everybody. The heroine’s religious skepticism seemed a little forced to me (and maybe too modern), but the idea that her faith was mostly a facet of her emotional attachments is psychologically plausible. As for the ending, which many reviewers have commented on, the first surprise made sense to me, but the final surprise seemed unnecessary and out of left field.
*Year of Wonders* took me deep into its world and held me there. But someone needs to solve the conundrum of how to create a heroine who is true to her age but still relatable to modern readers! The independent-spirited young woman has become cliché and no longer holds any mystery for the reader. Perhaps writers need to look for inspiration to the strengths of a Fanny Price or an Anne Elliot.
The Rector of the town is Michael Monpellion who lives with his wife Elinor. He decides to close off the town so the plague does not spread to other places from its infected population.
If a town in 1699 sounds boring, you'll be surprised at the amount of drama and horror the village undergoes. Anna transforms during the year of wonders as she turns from being a shy, reclusive young woman to a healer of sorts. When the town's midwives, the Gowdies, are accused of witchcraft, Elinor and Anna take it upon themselves to learn the ways of the healing arts amidst the gardens and herbs of the Gowdies' garden. They gather herbs to strengthen the bodies of the citizens as well as try to ease the suffering of those with plague.
This is a slim volume but it is full of action and drama. I felt myself feeling very happy and fortunate to live in this century versus one full of useless superstitions and ignorance. The characters are well drawn and when you read the book, you can only hope for the best as you see how difficult it must have been, especially for women, to survive in such a brutal time.
Add this book to your fall reading list - I had it on mine, but when I started reading it, I couldn't put it down.