Year of Wonders
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.

Year of Wonders Details

TitleYear of Wonders
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseApr 30th, 2002
PublisherPenguin Books
ISBN-139780142001431
Rating
GenreHistorical, Historical Fiction, Fiction, European Literature, British Literature, Book Club, Adult, Adult Fiction, Literature, Audiobook, 17th Century

Year of Wonders Review

  • Jeffrey Keeten
    January 1, 1970
    “My Tom died as babies do, gently and without complaint. Because they have been such a little time with us, they seem to hold to life but weakly. I used to wonder if it was so because the memory of Heaven still lived within them, so that in leaving here they do not fear death as we do, who no longer know with certainty where it is our spirits go. This, I thought, must be the kindness that God does for them and for us, since He gives so many infants such a little while to bide with us.” 1666 was “My Tom died as babies do, gently and without complaint. Because they have been such a little time with us, they seem to hold to life but weakly. I used to wonder if it was so because the memory of Heaven still lived within them, so that in leaving here they do not fear death as we do, who no longer know with certainty where it is our spirits go. This, I thought, must be the kindness that God does for them and for us, since He gives so many infants such a little while to bide with us.” 1666 was not a good year for England with bubonic plague killing 100,000 people followed by The Great Fire of London which destroyed 80% of London or about 13,000 homes. It is hard for us to conceive of a disease that can show up one day and within a few short months kill 75% of the people we know. To survive is fortuitous, but to actually acquire the disease and survive is nothing short of miraculous. The first signs were bulges at the groin called buboes. Can you imagine the bone chilling fear that would course through your body at the first appearance of such bulges? George Viccars, a tailor, made a very innocuous decision to order a bolt of cloth from London. He used the cloth to make fashionable dresses for the ladies of Eyam little did he know the cloth was infested with plague carrying fleas. The plague kills Viccars first and spreads quickly from family to family taking the youngest and fittest in greatest numbers. William Mompellion, the minister of the shire, makes the heroic decision to quarantine the town and contain the contagion. Through the eyes of Anna Frith we are exposed to the devastating effects of fear and loss on the small community. Death brings opportunity to some and sends others into object poverty. Anna, though besot by her own demons, does the best she can to not only survive her personal losses, but also make the fateful decision to devout her life providing help and succor to those who need it most. The midwives, medicine women, who command a deep knowledge of herbs and roots that would provide the most help during an outbreak of a deadly disease are the first to be treated with distrust. Their knowledge is looked on as magical well beyond the understanding of an under educated population. You would have thought these women had green skin and made grand statements like "I'll get you my pretty.", but they were just women interested in understanding the world around them and making the best use of what nature provided. "And so, as generally happens, those who have most give least, and those with less somehow make shrift to share." The rich flee Eyam and the rest stay, intent on riding out the worst of the contagion. They had no conception of just how horrible things were going to get. This is based on a true story. The book shows people at their very best and their very worst. It made me consider what I would do. Could I be as brave as Anna? Could I support the leadership of a Minister intent on keeping me and my family in harms way? Could I help those already infected? There are many things to admire in this tale. The ending though is odd. I notice that other reviewers mentioned the ending and I agree it was unexpected, but maybe we are all just underestimating the courage and determination of one woman. Two other plague novels that I really liked are Company Of Liars by Karen Maitland and The Pesthouse by Jim Crace. I have no reviews for them; unfortunately, because I read them before finding the wonderful community of goodreads. Company of Liars is told in a similar vein to Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales and Pesthouse is a postapocalyptic America regressed to Medieval conditions. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.comI also have a Facebook blogger page at: https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
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  • Hannah
    January 1, 1970
    Rarely has a book so captivated and then disappointed me with such a 180 turn to what I called utter "dreckage". Year of Wonders managed to do this, infortunately.In order to review, I have to break the book up between pages so that you can see where the trainwreck happened for me, and why I'm so PO'ed I could almost cry....REVIEW FOR PAGES 1-255Rating: 5 stars (I'd give it 10 stars if Goodreads had that designation, but since 5 stars means it was amazing, then 5 stars it is)Year of Wonders: Pag Rarely has a book so captivated and then disappointed me with such a 180 turn to what I called utter "dreckage". Year of Wonders managed to do this, infortunately.In order to review, I have to break the book up between pages so that you can see where the trainwreck happened for me, and why I'm so PO'ed I could almost cry....REVIEW FOR PAGES 1-255Rating: 5 stars (I'd give it 10 stars if Goodreads had that designation, but since 5 stars means it was amazing, then 5 stars it is)Year of Wonders: Pages 1-255 is a beautiful, incredibly moving fictional account of a real event that happened in Eyam ("Eem"), Derbyshire, England in 1665-1666. Today, road signs point out the direction to "Plague Village", so I think you get the idea of where this story is going to go....The villagers of Eyam were ground zero for an outbreak of bubonic plague that had apparently been introduced to the remote village from flea infested bolts of cloth brought into the town. Best guess estimates of the population in 1665 set it around 380 villagers. By the fall of 1666, only about 120 were left. While people all over London and other places in England were hurriedly leaving the areas of plague infection, the villagers of Eyam, under the strong guidance of their pastor Michael Mompellion, decided to stay put, self-quarantine themselves and ride out the storm. They saw it as a test of their faith and trust toward God, and felt that they would be blessed beyond all measure once the plague left them.Author Geraldine Brooks tells this story through the eyes of Anna, a young widow with 2 very small children to support. Anna's role in helping Michael Mompellion and his high born wife Elinor shines the light on all that was the very best of human nature during a time of crisis, as well as what was the very worst in human beings stretched physically, emotionally and spiritually beyond their endurance. Brooks married the two extremes so well, weaving a highly readable tale of immense pain, degradation, fear, and ultimately faith. I was appalled later, (when I googled Eyam), to learn that many of the incidences Brooks used in the book were true. Human beings definitely have the capacity for both extreme nobility of spirit, as well as extreme barbarism.If Brooks had left the story of the plague village at page 255, I would have happily accorded this wonderful book a cherished slot in my bulging bookcase and marked it as "favorite" on these, my Goodreads shelves. Alas, the book was 304 pages long. Therefore, we come to book-review-within-a-review:BOOK REVIEW FOR PAGE 256-304Rating 1 star (My feeling for these final 50 pages can best be summed up by the word: aaaarrrggghhh.)Year of Wonders: Page 256-304 must be read in connection with the first 255 pages to be fully believed. It is EPIC FAIL at it's most EPIC. It is so crammed with schlocky, hokey, trite piles of plot shite that I can hardly believe that it's written by the same author as my beloved book, Year of Wonders: Page 1-255. How is this possible? Did Brooks suddenly seize up and hand over the pen to some Harlequin romance writer? (please, no PO'd posts by Harlequin fans - I happen to enjoy Harlequins in small doses myself, but there IS a difference in quality between the two writing mediums).What Brooks did so perfectly in pages 1-255, she completely decimated in pages 256-304. Was she attempting to pull off her own mini-plague by killing off all the good and noble and faithful ideas her story fostered? WTH happened to plot continuity? To the characters? I am so confused by her ending that I don't even know what to say about it, except that (view spoiler)[I'M PISSED, PISSED, PISSED (hide spoiler)] and I know I need to calm down and go drink some herbal tea......back from my herbal tea break:OK, so now I've come to the end of my rambling, stupid review. I've had a chance to read some 1 and 2 star reviews from other more gifted GR reviewers, and I see that they did a 100% better job of detailing why this book had so much ruined potential, so I'll just stop.
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  • JanB
    January 1, 1970
    I would have given this a higher rating if not for the strange ending.
  • Elyse Walters
    January 1, 1970
    After reading "Long Man", by Amy Greene, not long ago....I was craving to read about another female character that 'might' remind me of Annie Clyde Dodson. I also wanted the story - like "Long Man" to be inspired by true events....and last...I wanted the writing to be gorgeous - rich, beautiful prose.....character driven...realistic...I wanted to get in touch with that 'feeling' which is different than the many modern contemporary novels I read. "YEAR of WONDER" was the perfect choice ....it sat After reading "Long Man", by Amy Greene, not long ago....I was craving to read about another female character that 'might' remind me of Annie Clyde Dodson. I also wanted the story - like "Long Man" to be inspired by true events....and last...I wanted the writing to be gorgeous - rich, beautiful prose.....character driven...realistic...I wanted to get in touch with that 'feeling' which is different than the many modern contemporary novels I read. "YEAR of WONDER" was the perfect choice ....it satisfied what I was longing for. YikesSo much is so darn sad!!!The character, Anna Frith, leading female, inspired me, and comforted me with her calm kindness. This was another book - I couldn't put down.... page turning engrossing! The PROSE is exquisite. The rich 'quality' was all there that I was looking for. The writing blew me away. A dark story...with writing that exceeds your expectation - thoughts will linger. If you liked "Long Man", you'll love "Year of Wonder".....or vice versa).
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  • Hannah Greendale
    January 1, 1970
    Anna Frith resides in a remote village where a bolt of cloth delivered from London brings with it the bubonic plague. Guided by a vision bestowed upon the town minister, Anna and her village elect to quarantine themselves, hoping to prevent the plague from spreading. Days of quarantine turn into weeks. As the months come and go, villagers grow restless. Death is prevalent in every household; suspicion and anger mount as villagers yearn for someone to blame for their plight. Anna soon faces far g Anna Frith resides in a remote village where a bolt of cloth delivered from London brings with it the bubonic plague. Guided by a vision bestowed upon the town minister, Anna and her village elect to quarantine themselves, hoping to prevent the plague from spreading. Days of quarantine turn into weeks. As the months come and go, villagers grow restless. Death is prevalent in every household; suspicion and anger mount as villagers yearn for someone to blame for their plight. Anna soon faces far greater perils than the devastating plague. Year of Wonders is brimming with the same elegant, beguiling prose one can anticipate from any book written by Geraldine Brooks. At the edge of the field, the hedgerows were deep green in their glossy leaves and the blackberries beginning to plump and redden. Fat lambs, their fleeces gilded by sunlight, grazed in lush grasses.Instead, I lingered in the quiet grove behind the church, where the old graves are. It is a lumpy place, where the ground has heaved and sighed into grassy mounds and the briar roses tumbled in a bright profusion of ruddied hips over graves whose markings are weathered and barely legible.While the village is portrayed as a beautiful place any would be lucky to wander, the author depicts the horrors of the plague with equal skill, making use of ghastly descriptions that spare no detail: The day of his death, the strange circles bloomed on him: vivid crimson welts rising in rings just beneath the topmost layer of his skin. As the hours passed, these turned violet then purple-black, hardening into crusts. It seemed as if the flesh inside of him was dying while he yet breathed, the putrefying meat pushing and bursting its way out of his failing body. Eighteen-year-old Anna Frith remains a fascinating character from start to finish. She faces many hardships but remains a strong woman with a loving heart, befriending outcasts and dabbling in perilous medicinal trades. Despite the many dreadful events she bears witness to, Anna maintains a tender view of the world. [He] died as babies do, gently and without complaint. Because they have been such a little time with us, they seem to hold to life but weakly. I used to wonder if it was so because the memory of Heaven still lived within them, so that in leaving here they do not fear death as we do, who no longer know with certainty where it is our spirits go. This, I thought, must be the kindness that God does for them and for us, since He give so many infants such a little while to bide with us. Occasionally the pacing in Year of Wonders stumbles and slows, but it always picks up again and eventually arrives at one of the most satisfying conclusions of any book yet read.
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  • Lyn
    January 1, 1970
    Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks 2001 novel describes the plague years of 1666 and concludes with a very unusual and somewhat unbalanced ending. While reading I thought of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and of course Camus’ The Plague (and I forgive her much about the ending for the mention of Oran which could NOT have been coincidence). This is simply, elegantly written and yet the force and brutality of the plot, told in such straightforward prose is also reminiscent of Sinners in the Hands of Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks 2001 novel describes the plague years of 1666 and concludes with a very unusual and somewhat unbalanced ending. While reading I thought of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and of course Camus’ The Plague (and I forgive her much about the ending for the mention of Oran which could NOT have been coincidence). This is simply, elegantly written and yet the force and brutality of the plot, told in such straightforward prose is also reminiscent of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (another obvious and brilliant reference) – relentless and shocking.
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  • Meredith Enos
    January 1, 1970
    A lot of people have complained about this book being slow, but I found it beautifully paced for what it was about--after all, the title is "Year of Wonders," which kind of sets up an expectation and timeframe right away. The pace helped set up a world, a time when things moved more slowly, when people were more thoughtful, when people paid attention to the seasons and nature. This is a beautifully narrated, incredibly seamless (for the amount of research that must have been put into to it, it r A lot of people have complained about this book being slow, but I found it beautifully paced for what it was about--after all, the title is "Year of Wonders," which kind of sets up an expectation and timeframe right away. The pace helped set up a world, a time when things moved more slowly, when people were more thoughtful, when people paid attention to the seasons and nature. This is a beautifully narrated, incredibly seamless (for the amount of research that must have been put into to it, it reads so smoothly) novel. I liked the evolution of the protagonist, the way she gained power and still moved within her role in society. That being said, the ending just friggin' killed it for me. It was totally Hollywood-ized and a total cop out. At turns a romance, a horror, and an action-adventure--in 20 or so pages--but really bad. Bad, like "Who killed Bobby Ewing?" bad. Sigh. I was really pulling for 4 stars here, and then the ending is .5 or 1 star. So it averaged out to a heavily weighted 2 stars.
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  • Heidi The Reader
    January 1, 1970
    Year of Wonders tells the story of Anna, a servant to a pastor, and how she emotionally and physically survives the plague while the majority of her village falls ill around her.I was enthralled. I listened to the audiobook on my daily commute and it was fantastic.You get the very real drama of life in a small village mixed with the the despair that must have accompanied the plague. There's finger-pointing, people taking advantage of other's need and, above all, the need to rationalize why all o Year of Wonders tells the story of Anna, a servant to a pastor, and how she emotionally and physically survives the plague while the majority of her village falls ill around her.I was enthralled. I listened to the audiobook on my daily commute and it was fantastic.You get the very real drama of life in a small village mixed with the the despair that must have accompanied the plague. There's finger-pointing, people taking advantage of other's need and, above all, the need to rationalize why all of the deaths were occurring.My favorite part of this book was when Anna stopped in the middle of her hectic life to reconsider how she viewed God. She uses common sense reasoning to pick apart why a deity would allow such tragedy to occur and then wonders why the young are taken rather than the old.She comes to the conclusion that what's happening is a biological thing rather than a divine thing. Then, once she has that straight in her mind, she's better equipped to handle everybody else's irrational responses to the plague without being bogged down by her own.Anna is a great heroine. She has her flaws- a flirtation with opium addiction to dull her grief and a crush on someone else's husband- but she tries to be a good person. Mainly, she's just overwhelmed by what's going on and wants to feel loved and safe.She cares for the ill, helps an orphaned child hold on to her family's lead mine and tries to help her village keep body and soul together.The ending of Year of Wonders was incredibly shocking to me, but in a good way. Geraldine Brooks stayed true to her characters but took the story in such an unexpected direction, that I had to turn it off for awhile to absorb what I had just heard.Highly recommended for book clubs or people who love historical fiction. Year of Wonders is wonderous indeed.
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  • Beata
    January 1, 1970
    I'm still reading the novel and must admit it's really gripped me. The novel presents the atmosphere in a 17th century remote English village during the Plague, but not only, it describes a small rural community, the beginnings of mining, witch hunting and superstitions, all of which ultimately lead to dramatic events. Also, the language is exeptionally powerful, you do not read it as a historical novel written in modern times. I did enjoy reading the novel as it's always interesting to observe I'm still reading the novel and must admit it's really gripped me. The novel presents the atmosphere in a 17th century remote English village during the Plague, but not only, it describes a small rural community, the beginnings of mining, witch hunting and superstitions, all of which ultimately lead to dramatic events. Also, the language is exeptionally powerful, you do not read it as a historical novel written in modern times. I did enjoy reading the novel as it's always interesting to observe how people, unable to leave the place, behave towards each other when confronted with a problem.
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  • Jennifer (aka EM)
    January 1, 1970
    Update: Mar 29/13--I don't know why I did it, but the very fact that I did it (finished this book) was going to lead me to up it to three stars. But now that I've done it I'M TAKING THIS DOWN TO ONE STAR -- HOLY MOLY AND GOLLY GEE WILLIKERS BUT I AM P.O.'d AT THIS BOOK. None of the last 50pp - new character development COMPLETELY in opposition and nonsensical to anything that went before, new sub-plots suggested and followed - were either necessary or sensible. ALL of it was entirely a contrivan Update: Mar 29/13--I don't know why I did it, but the very fact that I did it (finished this book) was going to lead me to up it to three stars. But now that I've done it I'M TAKING THIS DOWN TO ONE STAR -- HOLY MOLY AND GOLLY GEE WILLIKERS BUT I AM P.O.'d AT THIS BOOK. None of the last 50pp - new character development COMPLETELY in opposition and nonsensical to anything that went before, new sub-plots suggested and followed - were either necessary or sensible. ALL of it was entirely a contrivance to (view spoiler)[get Anna out of the country and (hide spoiler)] end the damn thing. WOW. That is bad. That is like creative writing 101 what not to do. And the MELODRAMA! Like a 60s soap opera, it was! As the bodies piled up, all I could think of was this: Bring Out Yer Dead.Everything about this is, as I said below: contrived, overwrought, OVERWRITTEN, clumsy, unconvincing.I am done with YoW. DONE.______I’ve started and re-started this book twice, and am now putting it down a third and final time about half-way through. [ETA: for some ungodly reason, I picked it up again! I am still reading! The Plague: she has a hold on me! It's crazeeeeeee!!!]I first picked it up coming off of 880 pages of the detail-rich, psychologically-nuanced density of Middlemarch. I thought perhaps it was not really a fair test – sort of like drinking an Italian pinot grigio after an Australian shiraz. And then I thought, ok – maybe I need something lighter than plague and pestilence right now.It’s not you, Geraldine, it’s me. Or rather, it’s George Eliot – you can’t compete; don’t even try.So I put it down and picked up Louise Erdrich (not literally, you silly thing). Consumed The Beet Queen, licked my fingers, dove back into Year of Wonders. Well, Erdrich can make humdrum domestic scenes leap off the page with eccentric characterizations, hysterically funny observations, and poetry in even the most mundane detail.Sorry, Geraldine. It’s not you, it’s Louise Erdrich. Another totally unfair test. Angel food cake after a dark chocolate torte.But c’mon. Can there be anything more inherently dramatic and gut-wrenching than the plague? With content like this, shouldn’t Geraldine have an easy time of pulling us into the story and keeping us there? Well, no.Contrived, overwrought, clumsy, unconvincing. It’s not that it was poorly researched – it was that the research showed through too transparently, but didn’t translate into compelling scenes or characters. List for me all the plants that a 17th C herbalist/healer would have in her garden – impressive, but irrelevant. Show me a scene where her fellow villagers try to drown her in a well to see if she’s a witch – great potential. But fell flat on the page because you didn’t make me care about her first.One thing in particular that was annoying was the dialogue. Historical fiction writers: you can’t just have your characters use terms and refer to objects or events that mark them as ‘of a time and place’ – in this case, England 1662. I understand you're emerging from Puritanism and are therefore wearing colourful smocks instead of drab browns and greys. But I don't care.You have to convey a way of thinking that is, in this case, 350 years out of date. Anna Firth spoke like a modest, 17th C uneducated country girl - but she didn't think like one. Her thinking was not just unusual for a woman of her time and place, it was positively anachronistic. I don’t care if your dialogue is accurate down to the accent. If it sounds like it’s being play-acted by a local theatre troupe wearing homemade costumes, you’ve lost me at ‘good morrow.’ And so here’s where we come to the real comparison that sunk this book in my mind: Hilary Mantel. It’s all Hilary’s fault. Because every book of historical fiction I read is going to need to measure up to the standards she set in Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies: the level of detail; the shaping of the character on the page from the inside out – never mind describing the clothes or using the words of a 17th C courtier, take me into his mind and thoughts so thoroughly that I inhabit that character with you. Lead me towards events with enough subtle build-up, enough interest in your characters, that I am both surprised by and invested in what happens to them when it happens. Even if it’s a foregone conclusion. Even if everyone dies, and I know everyone is going to die.Actually: that’s another point, and here I’ll look to Edith Wharton who is a master of this (and for an even more apt comparison, Connie Willis did it well too in Doomsday Book). You can’t love your characters too much not to put them through the hell that they need to go through. It’s the plague. People die gruesome deaths – children die. Mothers grieve. We need you to take us through that. Also, some people have to be truly heartless – not soap opera-ey villainous. To stand as a contrast to others – who need to be selfless, humble and heroic, but not unbelievably so; they need to be humans who struggle and do the best they can, but are not perfect. Geraldine couldn’t do it – it shows on the page. Maybe she gets to it later, but she lost me at the critical early point – she actually killed important people off too early and too quickly (this is what I mean by leading me to it – and by the need for greater detail, greater depth. This kind of historical fiction needs to be longer, more epic. Connie Willis knows. Hilary Mantel knows. Hell, even George Eliot knows!).Great potential, unfulfilled.
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  • Will Byrnes
    January 1, 1970
    Year of Wonder offers a you-are-there account of the plague year of 1666 in the English countryside, seen through the eyes of Anna Frith, a young maid, widowed with two young boys. The inspiration for the story is the actual village of Eyam, in Derbyshire. After it was clear that the plague had set up shop in their village, the residents elected to voluntarily quarantine themselves for the duration. Eyam is the only locale known to have taken on such a selfless burden. And so it is with the fict Year of Wonder offers a you-are-there account of the plague year of 1666 in the English countryside, seen through the eyes of Anna Frith, a young maid, widowed with two young boys. The inspiration for the story is the actual village of Eyam, in Derbyshire. After it was clear that the plague had set up shop in their village, the residents elected to voluntarily quarantine themselves for the duration. Eyam is the only locale known to have taken on such a selfless burden. And so it is with the fictitious village here. As residents die in increasing numbers Rector Mompellion pleads with them to willingly confine themselves to the borders of their village, lest they carry the contagion abroad. Most agree, and remain. Brooks shows the stages of the contagion, from the first plague death, a boarder in Anna’s home, to the clear spread of pestilence to increasing numbers of residents, to the hysteria of the ignorant, looking for someone to blame. The payload in Year of Wonders is the up close and personal look Brooks offers of what it was like to live through the Black Death, both in glimpses of the physical travails suffered by plague victims and in the impact of the steep population reduction on the functioning of society.The late 17th Century was the era of the Restoration. Charles II was the king. The Cromwell era had come to an end, and Puritanism was losing its’ hold on the population. This tension appears in the Year of Wonders as characters move from a strictly drab wardrobe to one with some brightness, the town adjusts to the change from a Puritanical cleric to one with a less severe view of human nature. We also see the very harsh struggle of believers with their faith. How could a loving God allow such an abomination as the plague? Brooks captures some of the madness of the time as a pre-scientific view of causality leads some villagers to scapegoat women who were healers, seeing in their knowledge a power that was inexplicable and thus unacceptable. A clear case of “Ignorance is Power” that persists to this day.The payload is the thing here, the close look at the time, the plague, the Restoration. But the way one delivers that material is via characters and story. The book reads fast. It is engaging and interesting. But Anna Frith seemed to me a character drawn with a very 21st century sensibility. She is a feminist heroine, overcoming the limited choices of 1666, using her superior intelligence, and working in a dose of entrepreneurialism to boot. While there may have been elements of scientific curiosity extant at the time, it is doubtful that those currents would have flowed as far as remote English mountain villages. Thus Anna and Elinor’s (the rector’s wife) sense that good nutrition, to be obtained through the wise application of natural herbs, was a way to combat illness seems unlikely. The attitude of Anys Gowdie (an herbalist and healer) towards sexuality also seems remarkably modern for 1666. I have found that in some books with a feminist theme (or even most mixed gender TV commercials showing married people, for that matter) there is a lot of oversimplification. Women good, men bad, or stupid. Yes, I know that in Year of Wonders there are evil females as well, and there were plenty of bad men to go around, but the only truly good (as far as we know), liberated man (George Viccar) gets whacked early on. No, Sam (Anna’s late husband) does not count, being rather a simpleton. And after portraying the rector so positively throughout (Yes, I did note the signal tantrum) it seems a cheat that she consigns him to the evil-men pile. There were hints of bodice ripping in the earlier chapters that made me wonder if I had inadvertently picked up a romance. Thankfully that abated.Anna Frith is allowed to make some errors of judgment, but it seems that this is only to offset her general perfection. She is almost too-good, too-strong, and I confess that this got on my nerves a bit. She lands on her feet so consistently that she might have been a centipede. So, while I did enjoy the book, and learned a bit about the time (always welcome) I had issues.If you want to learn some more about the Black Death, you might want to check out In the Wake of the Plague. Medieval historian Norman Cantor looks at an earlier (1348-1350) plague and examines the societal and historical impact. Good stuff.
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  • Rebecca
    January 1, 1970
    Year of Wonders is a historical novel about a small English town 100 miles outside of London. It's the year 1666, and the town has been struck by plague, brought to them by a London tailor boarding with our narrator, Anna. The village is so remote that when the plague first appears the villagers don't recognize it for what it is. Once they learn the horrors of the disease, the villagers are asked to make a decision whether to flee in order to save themselves, or to stay put in order to keep the Year of Wonders is a historical novel about a small English town 100 miles outside of London. It's the year 1666, and the town has been struck by plague, brought to them by a London tailor boarding with our narrator, Anna. The village is so remote that when the plague first appears the villagers don't recognize it for what it is. Once they learn the horrors of the disease, the villagers are asked to make a decision whether to flee in order to save themselves, or to stay put in order to keep the disease from spreading any further.In the end, everyone in the village agrees to stay, aside from the only rich family in town - the only family with the means to run far from the reaches of the disease. As we follow the rest of the town through its year of isolation, we watch Anna, who begins as a lowly maid, transformed into a strong woman who the town begins to depend on for herbal remedies to just about every malady, in addition to becoming the only midwife in town (after an unfortunate incident that leaves the former midwife dead).When I first saw this book I knew it was going to be an easy read, merely because of its length (only 336 pages!). What I didn't know was how much I'd enjoy reading it. This book packed in a ton of information, along with many vivid scenes. Time and again I found myself being shocked by how much I learned from this book and how many different places/people were described in so few pages. Brooks is an amazing writer for both her economy of words and her ability to tell a story well. Also, she does a wonderful job of using old English without it seeming cumbersome. I have read other historical books and been completely put off by them because it's so difficult for me to figure out what the characters are saying to each other.I really enjoyed watching Anna grow as a person. One of my favorite parts of the book was when she went to the mine with Elinor (her partner in seeking herbal remedies to the plague) to save Merry from losing her family's mine. I was surprised Brooks made these women so independent in a novel about the 17th century, but in the interviews with her in the back of the book she talks about the necessity of women taking a leading role during that time and the fact that women were starting to gain more freedom during that century in England.There were some cringe-worthy moments in this book - from the witch hangings to a couple of scenes where women are physically abused - but I think it added to the authenticity of the book. We live in such a sterile world today, it was difficult for me to imagine what it would be like to live in such a dirty place while trying to fight a fatal disease.Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I would definitely recommend it (and already have forced it upon a number of friends). The one thing that really disappointed me was the epilogue, although that was pretty much because it went against what I had imagined and what I was expecting to happen. Normally I'd be glad about this because I hate when books are too predictable (and I probably would have said it was predictable if it had ended the way I had expected it to, so I don't know why I'm complaining), but after all the death and destruction in this novel, I guess I kind of wanted a couple of people to end up "happily ever after."
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  • Julie
    January 1, 1970
    I'd like to entitle this review How I Wish I Liked Geraldine Brooks More and subtitle it (for dramatic effect) How I Narrowly Escaped the Plague.True story: Last year, right before Labor Day here in the States, our dog became somewhat lethargic and had swelling around his neck. And, though it was hot and the end of August, I was, strangely enough, simultaneously experiencing a sore throat and swollen lymph nodes.It was the Thursday before the Monday Labor Day holiday (naturally) when I took in o I'd like to entitle this review How I Wish I Liked Geraldine Brooks More and subtitle it (for dramatic effect) How I Narrowly Escaped the Plague.True story: Last year, right before Labor Day here in the States, our dog became somewhat lethargic and had swelling around his neck. And, though it was hot and the end of August, I was, strangely enough, simultaneously experiencing a sore throat and swollen lymph nodes.It was the Thursday before the Monday Labor Day holiday (naturally) when I took in our dog and had the vet extract some fluid from one of the swollen spots on his neck. When the vet came back in, he had a weird look on his face and he asked, “Any chance you've been exposed to fleas?”Well, yes, one of our cats had recently broken free and entered a rabbit warren (which, of course, made me think of Watership Down), killed all of the rabbits, laid them out like a sociopath in the grass in the backyard, and then entered the house with the fleas on his body. I had spent several days combing him and vacuuming the house like Sylvia Plath.I wondered, why did he ask?The vet shifted his weight uncomfortably and said, “Well, as you may know, we have confirmed cases of the bubonic plague here, and, between what I'm seeing in the fluid I've extracted, and your experience with the rabbits and fleas. . . it's possible that your dog has contracted the plague.”Honestly, he could have then knocked me down with a feather pen. I asked, “Is this because I love Shakespeare?” (For real. Maybe it was shock?)He gave me a light squeeze on my arm (how brave of him to touch me!), and said, nervously, “Um, I'm sure it's nothing, but unfortunately we won't have the lab results back until Tuesday, because it's a holiday weekend.”So, from THURSDAY TO TUESDAY I wondered if our dog or I or any of the members of our household had plague. THE PLAGUE. Sheesh. It was awful.Anyway, I'm happy (thrilled in fact) to report that we did NOT have the plague, and we survived, but you can now know my true devotion to books when I share with you that, as soon as we were given the good news that we did not have the plague, the very next thing I thought was. . . those poor people in Year of Wonders weren't so lucky.I went home, grabbed a copy of the book, took out my notes, and reminded myself that Year of Wonders was a debut novel for Ms. Brooks and it contains some fantastic language. And, obviously, some part of the story stayed with me. I can't think about the plague (though I hope I never contemplate having it again), without thinking of this book.But, what happens to Ms. Brooks's novels? I've read three of them now, and though they always start with sharp and descriptive and almost poetic language, they all go downhill for me. Crash, in fact, with their bizarre and sloppy endings.Now that I have faced the possibility of plague, I feel I have developed a kinship with some of her characters. But, still, I hesitate. I wonder. . . why don't I like her books more?
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  • Tea Jovanović
    January 1, 1970
    Jedna od mojih prvih "uredničkih" kupovina... neposredno posle Harija Potera... Odličan roman o crnoj smrti, ili kugi u Engleskoj... Nažalost, objavljena je u pogrešnoj ediciji i nije joj posvečena adekvatna pažnja... ali potražite je u bibliotekama... A još bolje, pročitajte je u originalu ako ste u mogućnosti...
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  • Zanna
    January 1, 1970
    I loved reading this becauseI've known the story since I was very small & been to the placeThe protagonist is a poor womanThe most heroic character is a liberated womanThe most courageous characters are all womenThe author celebrates the lore and spirituality of cunning womenThe author celebrates love, loyalty and friendship between womenThe author celebrates communalist values and mutual careThe author takes witch-hunting to task as a masculist power-grabThe author takes Puritanism to taskT I loved reading this becauseI've known the story since I was very small & been to the placeThe protagonist is a poor womanThe most heroic character is a liberated womanThe most courageous characters are all womenThe author celebrates the lore and spirituality of cunning womenThe author celebrates love, loyalty and friendship between womenThe author celebrates communalist values and mutual careThe author takes witch-hunting to task as a masculist power-grabThe author takes Puritanism to taskThe author takes sanctimonious men to taskThe author takes abusive men to task, with nuanceThe author takes the parasitic rich & powerful class to task, mercilesslyThe author takes unjust law to taskThe author takes the denigration of sex workers to taskThe author shows us women taking on injustice and male indifference with above-and-beyond determinationThe author shows us women taking sexual initiativeThe author shows us fulfilling childless husbandless lives for women.The author throws open the hardness and darkness of the truth-based story with a beautiful, fanciful redemptive ending full of love and light, simultaneously taking racist white Christian history to task.
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  • Carol
    January 1, 1970
    Year Of Wonders is the story of a very young, but determined and brave young widowed housemaid, Anna Frith, who (view spoiler)[ loses her two children (hide spoiler)] to the horrors of the plague, but soldiers on to help the town minister and his wife fight the contagion while quarantined within their village.This touching and sometimes grotesquely explicit novel set in 1666 England is full of heartbreaking stories depicting unbelievable cruelty, superstitions, profiteering from the dead and the Year Of Wonders is the story of a very young, but determined and brave young widowed housemaid, Anna Frith, who (view spoiler)[ loses her two children (hide spoiler)] to the horrors of the plague, but soldiers on to help the town minister and his wife fight the contagion while quarantined within their village.This touching and sometimes grotesquely explicit novel set in 1666 England is full of heartbreaking stories depicting unbelievable cruelty, superstitions, profiteering from the dead and the utter despair left in the aftermath of pestilence, but.....there is also kindness and compassion, and one specific moment of magic involving a young child with "rose petals" that will remain with me long after I've gone on to other books!The epilogue was surprising and certainly not what I expected except(view spoiler)[ for Anna siring the minister's child, but was nonetheless filled with hope and a future for the deserving young woman. (hide spoiler)]Great Read!
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  • Katy
    January 1, 1970
    I have to say that I liked this book. But, I was greatly disappointed in it. I came to the book knowing of the sacrifice of that village and knowing, too, that when people sacrifice in such a way they are abundantly blessed by God. Unfortunately, the latter was completely missing in this book. It is easy to be an onlooker to suffering and assume that you’ve seen the injustice and the loss and the pain and that there is nothing else to see. This is not only completely at odds with everything I be I have to say that I liked this book. But, I was greatly disappointed in it. I came to the book knowing of the sacrifice of that village and knowing, too, that when people sacrifice in such a way they are abundantly blessed by God. Unfortunately, the latter was completely missing in this book. It is easy to be an onlooker to suffering and assume that you’ve seen the injustice and the loss and the pain and that there is nothing else to see. This is not only completely at odds with everything I believe to be true but also at odds with people I know who have suffered and the tales they tell of the comfort they have received. In the not too far distant history of my own people there is a sad tale of suffering and deaths of the daily “will this never end?” type. However, unlike the survivors of Eyam, we have their own words of the experience and as one survivor said, “The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay.” Surely there were miracles in that village as they sacrificed for the good of their people. Surely God walked with them. Surely there were wonders. Unfortunately there was nothing of this in the book. We are left only with what the author assumes would be left after such a year – a rector who no longer believes and a village that doesn’t either. You can write a lot of things from our atheistic, modern standpoint, but in the matter of a village who sacrificed for their fellow man in the name of a God in whom they all believed, you can not write and get it right. You can not write of such things and leave God out. It leaves out half of the story and the most important half at that. My guess is that those villagers were never the same, but not in the hopeless way the author assumes. My guess is that for those villagers, they never had to look to the skies and wonder anymore if God was there and if He were listening, because my guess is that for them, all doubt had been swept away. They now knew He was there because He had walked with them in their year of wonders. That was the story I wanted to hear.
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  • Mike
    January 1, 1970
    This is a book about the bubonic plague so I am basically expected this by the end:Spoilers abound below along with a not insignificant amount of profanity:(view spoiler)[So, expecting this book to be bleak, I shunted all of the emotions I anticipated feeling into the area of my heart where I keep my New York Mets fandom. You know, these guys:Sufficed to say their years of incompetence and disappointment have formed a nice level of scar tissue over that part of my metaphorical heart. So whatever This is a book about the bubonic plague so I am basically expected this by the end:Spoilers abound below along with a not insignificant amount of profanity:(view spoiler)[So, expecting this book to be bleak, I shunted all of the emotions I anticipated feeling into the area of my heart where I keep my New York Mets fandom. You know, these guys:Sufficed to say their years of incompetence and disappointment have formed a nice level of scar tissue over that part of my metaphorical heart. So whatever this book was going to throw at me I knew it wouldn't sink its emotional claws into me.That being said, fuck this book. It was a never ending parade of despair, death, exploitation, inhumanity, and suffering with a little dash of hope thrown in every so often to make the subsequent despair, death, exploitation, inhumanity, and suffering that much worse. I swear, the town this takes place in (based on an actual town, Eyam) must have killed the writer's grandmother considering the amount of suffering she heaps upon the inhabitants. If I wanted this level of depression I would just read a non-fiction book about the plague.Look, I understand that this book was about a horrible situation. The town voluntarily (and, might I had, quite nobly) secluded itself from the outside world once it was clear they were infected with the Bubonic plague (not the Black Death vintage, but one of the later outbreaks called The Great Plague of London). And yes, under those conditions some pretty terrible stuff will (and did) happen.My issue with this book, though, was how the author presented the situation. Like I said, it was a never ending parade of death and despair. I was often introduced to families with the preface that they had already lost X amount of children plus one or both of the parents. I can feel bad for them on an abstract level, but if I didn't know them before hand it is difficult for me to rouse much emotional connection with them. They are just another set of future (or existing) corpses that I shouldn't bother getting to know or care about.There are a few characters we get to know quite well.Anna, the narrator. A peasant women in the employ of the local rector and widow to a local miner with two children. Michael Mompellion, the local rector and moral backbone of the community who proposes the the self quarantine. Elinor Mompellion, the wife of Michael who is a (positive) force to be reckoned with. Extremely empathetic, very hands on when it comes to problems, and generally a wonderful woman.We are also introduced to some other characters as well: Anna's father and step-mother, the Gowdies (a Aunt/Niece pair who have extensive herblore) and the Bradfords (local well to do family).So, some of the terrible things that the author heaps upon the reader:-The lynching of the Gowdies because people thought they were witches. There goes just about all of the herblore for the village, forcing Elinor and Anna to learn everything on their own.-Drug abuse (poppies in this case)-Child abuse-A crude form of crucifixion of Anna's father after he tries to kill someone in order to claim the victim's goods as payment for digging a grave (the previous person who did that died of a heart attack from overwork, another cheery note).-Anna's step mother, Aphra, going crazy from grief both from losing her own children (yes, lots and lots of children die) and having her husband die from the aforementioned crucifixion after Anna does not go to free him (she expected Aphra to do it but Aphra was at her home taking care of her children who all came down with the plague in shortly after the crucifixion). Aphra begins to masquerade as the ghost of one of the Gowdies, selling people fake supernatural remedies.-Child sacrifice-Families felled in such numbers that the village runs out of consecrated ground-Despair that drives some folks to self-flagellation-Attempted infanticide-Unnecessary mention of the slave trade. Not because the practice didn't occur, but because of all the other terrible things that have happened why include yet another terrible aspect of humanity during this time on top of everything else as part of a throw away line?-Elinor, whom we know at the beginning of the book is dead, comes down with the plague. So while you expect her to die she makes a recovery. Sounds good right? Nope, she gets killed when Aphra goes even crazier and stabs her to death in front of what is left of the village.-The Rector, Michael, after being a pillar of strength for the community, is broken by the death of Elinor and loses his faith (can't really blame him for that). But after hooking up with Anna (biblically speaking) he reveals that he never had sex with Elinor as a punishment for her sin of killing her out-of-wedlock child in the womb (using a heated iron brand no less). He specifically said that he strove to make her love him more and more so that his withholding of sex would hurt her that much more. Talk about a stone hearted, crazy religious zealot son of a bitch. Of course, because Anna become such good friends with Elinor and we see how great of a person Elinor is, this comes off as even more depressing and is a complete 180 from his previous personality to the point where it felt very jarring.So like I said, this book was fucking bleak. Everyone I was introduced to ended up dead, crazy, or deeply emotionally scarred (or were just terrible people to begin with). By the end we were left wwith this:Yes, the ending was sort of happy (if you ignore the mountain of corpses you had to climb over to get there), but Michael's crazy genes got passed on to another generation and the happiness lasted all of three pages before the book ended.There are ways to write bleak, depressing stories that don't involve constantly hitting the reader over the head with all the terrible things happening. After the third or fourth family is wiped out by the plague, the marginal emotional impact of each subsequent family death is extremely low. By the time I was halfway through the book every terrible thing the author dumped on poor Anna or the village just elicited a heavy sigh, not unlike the sighs I utter when the Mets once again find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.Upon final analysis this book failed for me because I did not resonate emotionally with any of the characters and the never ending parade of death and destruction just sort of numbed me to the entire experience. Family of seven wiped out by the plague? How passe. Drowning a baby? Par for the course. Crazy lady with a giant knife that slays the most beloved character in the village? Not terribly surprising. Religious man turns out to be a heartless self-righteous jackass? Certainly surprising, but completely undercuts any good feelings I had towards him this entire book.If you are interested in seeing a community collapse and die off from a plague and their own inhumanity, you might like this book. The writing and descriptions are quite sharp and well crafted, just expect a windmill full of corpses by the end. (hide spoiler)]
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  • Dorie - Traveling Sister :)
    January 1, 1970
    This is the captivating story of the bubonic plague in a small English town in 1665. This is a part of history that should be told!! Written as a novel of historical fiction with a wonderful heroine.I love this sad yet essentially uplifting story about a town that sacrifices itself by cutting off all travel and communication between their village and the other towns to contain the progression of the plaque. It is based on true stories and superb writing -- told in the language of the times.***Al This is the captivating story of the bubonic plague in a small English town in 1665. This is a part of history that should be told!! Written as a novel of historical fiction with a wonderful heroine.I love this sad yet essentially uplifting story about a town that sacrifices itself by cutting off all travel and communication between their village and the other towns to contain the progression of the plaque. It is based on true stories and superb writing -- told in the language of the times.***All time Favorite Books***
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  • Amy Bruno
    January 1, 1970
    ***SPOILER ALERT******Year of Wonders is a novel inspired by the true story of the little town of Eyam in Derbyshire, known as the Plague Village, during the years 1665 - 1666. Although the cause of how the plague showed up in their village is still unknown, the villagers' decision to quarantine themselves in order to stop the spread of the deadly disease has sealed their place in history.Geraldine Brooks provides us with a fictional account of what life looked like from within the Plague Villag ***SPOILER ALERT******Year of Wonders is a novel inspired by the true story of the little town of Eyam in Derbyshire, known as the Plague Village, during the years 1665 - 1666. Although the cause of how the plague showed up in their village is still unknown, the villagers' decision to quarantine themselves in order to stop the spread of the deadly disease has sealed their place in history.Geraldine Brooks provides us with a fictional account of what life looked like from within the Plague Village and gives us insight into the human nature that accompanies tragedy. Anna Frith is a widowed housemaid busy raising her two sons and working in the home of the town's priest and his wife, the Montpelliers. When Anna's lodger dies she suspects the plague to be the cause of his awful death and it's not long before her fears are confirmed. The spread is rampant and the fatalities of the villagers grow daily. No one is safe from the disease and every Sunday the church pews get emptier. Anna and Mrs. Montpellier team up to care for those afflicted while Mr. Montpellier works tirelessly bringing comfort to the dying.What really fascinated me in this novel was the human factor - how the villagers dealt with the constant death of their loved ones and neighbors, the trauma of self-exile and how their faith was tried. They sought a reason why this plague had come upon them, to understand...why was God punishing them or was he testing them?My favorite part of the novel was the friendship between Anna and Mrs. Montpellier, which has been strengthened by the tragedy is really beautiful to read and you can't help but love both of them and stand in awe of their strength.The ending is a bit of a rollercoaster with the revealing of secrets and hidden desires realized. Brooks ties the ends up nicely and while I was a little surprised by the ending, it was a pleasant surprise and I felt a great way to say goodbye to Anna, knowing she would have the happy future she so deserved.This poor book has been sitting on my TBR tower for ages and I could just kick myself for waiting this long to finally read it! Brooks' writing is brilliant, I can't wait to read more from her. Do yourself a favor and read this! You won't be sorry you did =)
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  • Connie G
    January 1, 1970
    The book gets its title from John Dryden's poem "Annus Mirabilis, The Year of Wonders, 1666" in the epigraph. It was the year when the black death ravaged England, and the Great Fire destroyed parts of London. Geraldine Brooks brings us to the small village of Eyam, Derbyshire where bolts of cloth from London, infested with fleas, were delivered to the tailor. He was the first villager who succumbed to the plague with many more following.The story is narrated by Anna Frith, a shepherdess who als The book gets its title from John Dryden's poem "Annus Mirabilis, The Year of Wonders, 1666" in the epigraph. It was the year when the black death ravaged England, and the Great Fire destroyed parts of London. Geraldine Brooks brings us to the small village of Eyam, Derbyshire where bolts of cloth from London, infested with fleas, were delivered to the tailor. He was the first villager who succumbed to the plague with many more following.The story is narrated by Anna Frith, a shepherdess who also spent a few hours daily as a servant in the rectory. The rector of the church, Michael Mompellion, convinces the villagers to quarantine themselves within the village so the plague will not spread to nearby towns. A wealthy Earl leaves supplies and food on a large stone at the boundary line. The rector's wife Elinor works with Anna nursing the sick, and preparing herbal tonics to strengthen people. The villagers turn to superstitions, magic charms, fasting and flagellation, and devil worshiping in the hope that something might stop the spread of the plague. Digging graves is unending work. How can people keep their faith and their sanity when they are suffering such great losses?Anna is an interesting character--a strong woman with many talents who comes from a troubled family background. There are a few twists and surprises in Anna's life at the end of the story. This historical novel was well researched and kept my interest to the end.
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  • Shelagh Rice
    January 1, 1970
    This was a really good historical fiction book, I have never read anything from this era before. It is set in 1666 and the plague is heading for a small rural village. The story is told from the perspective of Anna Frith a young married housemaid with two young children. This is a fascinating insight into the lives of ordinary people under extraordinary circumstances. The overall concept for the book is based on a factual story of a village under siege from the plague. It is difficult to imagine This was a really good historical fiction book, I have never read anything from this era before. It is set in 1666 and the plague is heading for a small rural village. The story is told from the perspective of Anna Frith a young married housemaid with two young children. This is a fascinating insight into the lives of ordinary people under extraordinary circumstances. The overall concept for the book is based on a factual story of a village under siege from the plague. It is difficult to imagine such an illness without the medical knowledge we possess today, it is no wonder people driven by fear believe in all kinds of superstition and far fetched cures. This book is very well researched and is at times very sad, very warm and very inspirational. My first 5 star this year. Highly recommended to historical fiction fans and everyone who enjoys a good story told well.
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  • Francine
    January 1, 1970
    I had read a couple of Geraldine Brooks' essays for my Lit Theory class while I was in grad school, and while I was never one of those ultra-feminist types, I liked what she wrote about women as being strong, independent and intelligent creatures without overtly politicizing femininity as a whole. So I looked forward to reading "Year of Wonders", primarily because I loved the topic, I loved the time period, I loved the location and because I thought Brooks would be able to impart something diffe I had read a couple of Geraldine Brooks' essays for my Lit Theory class while I was in grad school, and while I was never one of those ultra-feminist types, I liked what she wrote about women as being strong, independent and intelligent creatures without overtly politicizing femininity as a whole. So I looked forward to reading "Year of Wonders", primarily because I loved the topic, I loved the time period, I loved the location and because I thought Brooks would be able to impart something different to the story.I was not impressed. As a whole, and academically speaking, the novel was flawless - it had strong characters, it was well-written grammatically, it had everything readers would look for in a novel. And I think that was what set me off. It followed all the rules about Writing The Novel: protagonists were good, antagonists were bad. Good people were redeemed at the end and the bad ones were punished. Scared, ignorant people did ghastly things because they didn't know any better: they reacted more than they thought. Women were strong, intelligent and outspoken, men were either enlightened or bought into the patriarchal hegemony, and in the end, the novel showed how the human spirit overcame everything bad that was thrown at it. Brooks did an excellent job with her research, so the locales were vividly described and she clung to historicity almost to a fault. But in making the "perfect" novel, she lost something. It was not authentic at all. There were anachronisms all over the place. I found it extremely cloying that the language switched back and forth between modern and early modern (17th century) English. I found some of the characters 2-dimensional (good were good, bad were bad, when in reality, a really decent character would have both qualities - these days, everyone knows about the "flawed hero"). I thought that some of her characterizations and descriptions were better suited for a novel set a century later, not in 1666. She had a tendency to rely too much on idiomatic expressions, which made the writing awkward at times and the reading quite tedious. I had a few eye-rolling moments and honestly, I couldn't wait to finish the book - not because I wanted to know what happened, but because I had lost patience with it.
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  • Judith E
    January 1, 1970
    The bubonic plague hit Eyam, England in the 1600’s like the apocalypse. Geraldine Brooks writes a grim tale based on a true incident in which this village is nearly annihilated and causes its residents to question God’s existence, God’s ability to intervene, and the power of nature. The strength of women, the hysteria of witchcraft, natural herbal cures, and the ignorance of staunching the spread of disease unfold in this tragedy. I enjoyed reading this well written portrayal of life in Britain The bubonic plague hit Eyam, England in the 1600’s like the apocalypse. Geraldine Brooks writes a grim tale based on a true incident in which this village is nearly annihilated and causes its residents to question God’s existence, God’s ability to intervene, and the power of nature. The strength of women, the hysteria of witchcraft, natural herbal cures, and the ignorance of staunching the spread of disease unfold in this tragedy. I enjoyed reading this well written portrayal of life in Britain in the Restoration period, even with the reveal at the end that seems highly improbable.
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  • Cheryl
    January 1, 1970
    Read about it and "its blows fall and fall again upon raw sorrow." Its words will carry you through "a patchwork of grays," for it is not just a sense of melancholy that drives the mood of this novel; rather, it is an abhorrent obscurity. The kind of murkiness that once upon a time, engulfed the real-life villagers of Eyam, Derbyshire in the year 1665. A closely knit community of miners and shepherds and weavers, they were.Read and you will learn about their puritan ways and the plague that clai Read about it and "its blows fall and fall again upon raw sorrow." Its words will carry you through "a patchwork of grays," for it is not just a sense of melancholy that drives the mood of this novel; rather, it is an abhorrent obscurity. The kind of murkiness that once upon a time, engulfed the real-life villagers of Eyam, Derbyshire in the year 1665. A closely knit community of miners and shepherds and weavers, they were.Read and you will learn about their puritan ways and the plague that claimed many lives in their village. About the radical minister who was their leader and the surprising turn his life takes at the end ("His body is strong but I fear that the strength of his will far exceeds it. It can drive him to do what any normal man cannot do, for better and for worse"). About Anna Frith, the heroine and servant of the rector and his wife--the wife who becomes Anna's best friend. Read and you will love Anna as a narrator. You will have sympathy for her losses, her abandonment, her aloneness. You will be with her there, deep in the depths of her despair.Do not read if you cannot stomach imagistic illness and death:I heard the snap: a dry sound like a chicken's wishbone breaking. The little skull popped free of the spine and fell to the grass, where it rolled back and forth, the empty eye-holes staring.Beware, if the horrors of self-torture that a dying man submits to, with the hopes that he will be saved from the ravishing disease, disturb you:A scourge of plaited leather, into the ends of which had been driven short nails...and strikes himself. One of the spikes was bent crooked, like a fishhook, so that where it connected with the skin it caught and tore away a tiny piece of flesh." Read and you will find fact intermingled with fiction; good battling evil; choice as a thematic undertone. You will be disgusted and delighted. Angry and sad. In the end though, there is some hope because after all, there is always hope.
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  • Roisin
    January 1, 1970
    I have to admit that I have never been a huge fan of historical fiction so this is not the kind of book that I would normally read. Having read several positive reviews and been impressed by the author's credentials, however, I started reading with an open mind. The writing style was very welcoming and drew you in from the beginning and I warmed to the strength of Anna, the protagonist. I felt however that the story became so flawed and was so inconsistently paced that by the final page I had lo I have to admit that I have never been a huge fan of historical fiction so this is not the kind of book that I would normally read. Having read several positive reviews and been impressed by the author's credentials, however, I started reading with an open mind. The writing style was very welcoming and drew you in from the beginning and I warmed to the strength of Anna, the protagonist. I felt however that the story became so flawed and was so inconsistently paced that by the final page I had lost all respect for the novel as a whole. If you have not read the book [and still intend to do so] please stop reading for I will probably ruin it for you but the amount crammed into the final 20 pages was so utterly ludicrous that the story completely fell down and you felt like you were reading a piece of creative writing written by a GCSE student who is running out of time in an exam. Within these final pages the [previously rather promising] heroine has a highly charged affair with the husband of her dead best friend, discovers he's something of a psychopath, delivers a baby, rescues the baby from being murdered, runs away from the village she has never left in her life [taking the baby with her], is chased by the babies family, boards a ship and [somehow!] ends up part of an esteemed doctors hareem of wives acting as his assistant and bringing up the rescued child and a bastard child of her own fathered by the psychotic clergyman [widower of her best friend]. Phew! All plausibility is completely lost. I normally have some love for novels which are an easy read and have this degree of originality this, however, is utter rubbish.
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  • Judith
    January 1, 1970
    I enjoyed this a lot, but with some reservations. First of all, I knew the basic story very well from Jill Paton Walsh's wonderful children's novel "A Parcel of Patterns", so in a way, I didn't feel I was coming fresh to the book. Secondly, I felt the narrator was a bit of a Mary Sue, in that she seemed to me--a rabid historical fiction fan as a teenager--to be an idealised version of what we think we'd like to have been like if we'd lived in the past. Maybe that's unfair on the author--someone I enjoyed this a lot, but with some reservations. First of all, I knew the basic story very well from Jill Paton Walsh's wonderful children's novel "A Parcel of Patterns", so in a way, I didn't feel I was coming fresh to the book. Secondly, I felt the narrator was a bit of a Mary Sue, in that she seemed to me--a rabid historical fiction fan as a teenager--to be an idealised version of what we think we'd like to have been like if we'd lived in the past. Maybe that's unfair on the author--someone else who listed this on goodreads characterised it as a slight imposing of modern sensibilities on the character, and I think that's part of the problem. Still, almost impossible to avoid in historical fiction, I would hazard a guess.Another reservation was that I felt that the action got way too ramped up towards the end of the novel. I know that superstition and ignorance and fear led to people doing diabolical things during the plague era (not that much has changed!) but it got too over the top for me. SPOILERSThe death of Elinor also made me giggle. I mean, it was brutal and visceral (and extremely unlikely, I'd have thought), but when she fell to die poetically on the luscious blooms she had just conveniently carried to church (never having done so before) and then dropped to the ground--well, really. And I didn't buy for one second the grief-deranged minister--who had never had sex with his wife, so presumably was a virgin, given his pre-spouse's-murder extreme piety--suddenly
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  • PattyMacDotComma
    January 1, 1970
    4.5★A realistic, grim account of England’s Great Plague of 1665-1666 as told by Anna, a very young village widow. Brooks’s writing is what makes this bearable and compelling to read. The Black Death had been around for hundreds of years--during the Roman Empire and the late Middle Ages—but this is about the outbreak in Restoration England. Charles II and the court removed themselves to the countryside, and this village decided to quarantine itself.The story opens in “Leaf-Fall, 1666”, after the 4.5★A realistic, grim account of England’s Great Plague of 1665-1666 as told by Anna, a very young village widow. Brooks’s writing is what makes this bearable and compelling to read. The Black Death had been around for hundreds of years--during the Roman Empire and the late Middle Ages—but this is about the outbreak in Restoration England. Charles II and the court removed themselves to the countryside, and this village decided to quarantine itself.The story opens in “Leaf-Fall, 1666”, after the worst of the Plague in their village, with Anna attending to the grief-stricken Reverend Mompellion. They are among the survivors who are struggling to contemplate a future after so many tragedies. It’s been a village of farmers and lead miners, and few are left to tend to anything.But Anna is young, and in spite of everything (and believe me, there is a LOT of everything), she does notice new life. A walnut shell has cracked and sprouted right in the middle of the dirt road and is probably going to block the way--yet nobody’s pulled it out. “Footprints testify that we are all walking round it. I wonder if it is indifference, or whether , like me, others are so brimful of endings that they cannot bear to wrench even a scrawny sapling from its tenuous grip on life.”Then we’re plunged backward into “Spring, 1665”, with Anna (wife and mother), beginning to deal with the Black Death, and the villagers deciding to close the gates following Reverend Mompellion’s advice. They worked out a system of exchanging goods so that they weren’t entirely without support, but nobody could visit family or friends.Miserable time, gruesome descriptions, dreadful events, horrifying circumstances with no relief. Witches are accused and dealt with, corpses pile up and stink, filth is everywhere. It’s grisly, and men were often brutal to women and children even during the good times.There’s a lot of praying – church is held outdoors in the warm weather, when the sickness spreads more—but the church loses a lot of believers, and not all to Death. Anna learns how to brew potions and salves which help nourish sufferers and relieve some pain. For herself, she resorts briefly to a bit of poppy resin “stirring in a half cup of heather-scented honey to mask the bitterness” to enjoy a dream-filled night and “poppy-induced serenity” in the morning. It’s tempting to turn your back on the story to choose something cheerier, but it IS compelling. Brooks has such a way with words and is so good at putting us there (which is hard when it’s so awful). Here’s a nice bit (and there are many). “We all live aslant here, on this steep flank of the great White Peak. We are always tilting forwards to toil uphill, or bracing backwards on our heels to slow a swift descent. Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to live in a place where the land did not angle so, and people could walk upright with their eyes on a straight horizon. Even the main street of our town has a camber to it, so that the people on the uphill side stand higher than those on the downhill.”“Our village is a thin thread of dwellings, unspooling east and west of the church. The main road frays here and there into a few narrower paths that lead to the mill, to Bradford Hall, the larger farms, and the lonelier crofts.”And, we have the advantage of knowing that eventually . . . eventually, England recovered.I read and enjoyed The Secret Chord but wished then for a glossary, and the same applies here. Some of the words I’ve read in other places, but some phrases and customs are new to me and not always obvious. You can find some help online, but I’d appreciate it in the books themselves.
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  • Julie G
    January 1, 1970
    I honestly have two totally different ranks for this book: one of the first 200 pages and one of the last fifty. The last fifty pages totally ruined everything I loved about the first 200. If I weren't reading on my computer, I'd throw it across the room.Year of Wonders is inspired by a true story of a village called Eyam in England, which experienced an outbreak of the plague in 1666. Our story focuses on Anna, a housemaid for the village priest, and her experiences with loss, family, and commu I honestly have two totally different ranks for this book: one of the first 200 pages and one of the last fifty. The last fifty pages totally ruined everything I loved about the first 200. If I weren't reading on my computer, I'd throw it across the room.Year of Wonders is inspired by a true story of a village called Eyam in England, which experienced an outbreak of the plague in 1666. Our story focuses on Anna, a housemaid for the village priest, and her experiences with loss, family, and community as the village is cut off from all other society in an effort to contain the plague.WritingSo this is kind of a modern classic, right? It's a New York Times and Washington Post notable book, it's a best seller, and you'll find it on all kinds of "Best of" and "Required Reading" lists. I felt obligated to read it and have had it on my list for years. After reading it, I'm honestly lost as to where to start in reviewing the writing. I feel like it was almost two separate books.The first book - made up of the first 250 or so pages - was amazing. I thought the writing was beautiful, I love the characters, and I was very impressed with the overall quality as well as the author's storytelling capabilities. And then the last fifty pages happened and it wasn't even in the same world as the first section. Things just go absolutely nuts in the last fifty pages. I don't want to spoil, but I could not, even by the largest stretch, suspend my disbelief that far. It was totally and completely unbelievable, not just based on history and fact (the book is not a fantasy) but also based on everything the author had established about the characters to that point. You can't write two hundred and fifty pages of character development and then turn around and have the characters act against everything you've already established. No, just no.Entertainment ValueDespite my anger at the fact that the last few pages of the book take place in some alternate universe with characters who do not in any way resemble the characters we've established throughout the rest of the novel, I actually was quite entertained by the whole thing. I mean, I'll always be entertained by crazy stuff happening, but in this case being entertained was not the best thing. The crazy stuff, while crazily entertaining, had absolutely no place in the book.OverallThe ending ruined it. I'm not ready to say I don't recommend it, because I feel like the first part of the book is really good. And it's not a horrible waste of time in the way a more believable but cliched and un-memorable story would be. This one is certainly memorable and inspired discussion between me and the friends who have read it - so in that way it was a success. Just don't model your upcoming plague novel on the last fifty pages, ok?
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  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    1666. A young housemaid walks through the empty streets of a village decimated by plague. She attends to the rector, a formerly charismatic leader now sequestered in his empty house, listless and faithless. The previous year a bolt of fabric from London brought bubonic plague to this remote northern village, and as one by one the villagers began to die, the rector convinced them that instead of fleeing the village and bringing plague to others (who probably would drive them away anyway), they sh 1666. A young housemaid walks through the empty streets of a village decimated by plague. She attends to the rector, a formerly charismatic leader now sequestered in his empty house, listless and faithless. The previous year a bolt of fabric from London brought bubonic plague to this remote northern village, and as one by one the villagers began to die, the rector convinced them that instead of fleeing the village and bringing plague to others (who probably would drive them away anyway), they should quarantine themselves and ride it out. As nearly two-thirds of the inhabitants sicken and die, our 18 year old heroine joins forces with the rector and his wife to minister to the living, dying, and dead, and try to prevent the village from descending into superstition and barbarity. At times they succeed more than others, but watching those who rise to extraordinary challenges and those who don’t is compelling entertainment.At a dinner recently a friend handed this over to me and said, “You should read it — it’s wonderfully written!” She was right — the prose is beautiful, the story gripping, and the portrayal of human nature fascinating. Then (fun coincidence) I was two chapters into the book when another friend brought me to a book reading by Tony Horwitz, this very funny travel writer, who turned out to be Geraldine Brooks’s husband! Who knew?! Well, obviously he did, as did the book store lady who introduced him. So I grabbed a copy of Year of Wonders and asked him to sign it along with one of his own books, which he did without making me feel too ridiculous. He also told me that this was his favorite of his wife’s books. It’s a fast read, and guaranteed to make you feel really good about living in the 21st century. My only problem is with the ending. All through the book a couple of characters display obviously modern sensibilities, but the end really does seem to go off the rails with bizarre plot twists more suitable to a supermarket paperback than good historical fiction. Added to that is the toll on faith that the plague takes — really, nobody’s faith is strengthened after going through this sort of ordeal?? Granted, who knows if mine would be, especially given the absence of plumbing, medicine, or decent food, as well as the cast of illiterate drunkards I’d have to endure, but shouldn’t we at least hope for characters who come through the refiner’s fire wiser and stronger? Other than that, very interesting and beautifully written.
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