Published April 2002 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: finally pulled this one off of my bookshelf
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.
I recently shocked a friend by confessing to not having read this book yet. She insisted that I needed to do so sooner rather than later. It just so happened that I had a break between library books and books I needed to read for review shortly afterward and decided it was time. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a book about the plague during a global pandemic?
A couple of years ago, I went to hear Geraldine Brooks speak and I was so impressed with her and her desire to focus her writings on the people whose voices haven’t been heard. In this case, it was the people of the village of Eyams, England who self-quarantined themselves in 1665-1666 when the plague began to ravage their town. She came across the story, while out for a stroll while living in England, when she came across a sign to the “Plague Village.” Her research into the time period and what happened in Eyams is, no doubt thorough and she paints a bleak picture of the countryside and an even bleaker picture of how the village might have suffered.
For most of the book, I thought Brooks did a fantastic job using her research to show us what life would have been like in late 17th-century rural England without overwhelming us with detail. There is one mining scene that I thought Brooks dragged out too long for dramatic purposes. Other reviewers felt like she might have done the same thing with descriptions of the dying, especially when she's writing about characters we hadn't yet met. But I felt that was necessary for readers to understand the horror of the disease and the toll it took on this particular village, and on Anna. The book is bleak, as it should be, and filled with the kinds of events you might imagine happening when uneducated people are under so much stress.
But I have to agree with the reviewers that had major problems with the end of the book, specifically the last 50 pages or so. Suddenly characters we thought we knew are acting in ways completely out of character and Brooks includes events that truly do seem to have been added strictly for dramatic effect but which don't add to the story of what happened to the villagers. I certainly did want Anna to live happily ever after but the way Brooks got her there didn't seem to fit with the rest of the book at all.
After I saw Brooks speak, I came away really wanting to love her books. I'd certainly been a fan of her People of the Book but I was kept from loving that one because the modern story line, that included a romance, just didn't impress in the same way that the historical pieces did. I'm not giving up on Brooks; even a book with issues is worth reading. But I so hope that one day she'll write the book that impresses all the way through.