Friday, 23 January 2009

Review: Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders is based on the history of the small Derbyshire village of Eyam that, when beset upon by the plague in 1666, quarantines itself in order to prevent the disease from spreading further. The story is told through the eyes of one woman, Anna Frith and focusses particularly on her close relationship with the minister's wife Elinor.

Although it may seem odd that a novel of the plague is named 'Year of Wonders', I think this title really suits it. In her afterword Brooks descibes the title in terms of how Anna might have interpreted God's actions 'God works in mysterious ways hus wonders to perform'. But truly, for Anna, it is a year of wonders. While she loses both her children in the plague, but gains literacy and extensive medicinal and herbal knowledge as the 'plague year' goes on. The book is a relatively quick read, but is also very powerful. I particularly liked the ending, where Anna chooses independence and freedom over a more conventional and certain future. The middle eastern flavour of the ending is unexpected, though understandable in light of Brook's career as a journalist. I have no idea how accurate the history is, but I also loved the sense of place the novel gives - both in terms of the history and development of the plague, as well as the morality of puritanical England.

Friday, 16 January 2009

2009 Booklist

What I read in 2009:
  1. In the Forest, Edna O'Brien (realistic)
  2. Carol, Patricia Highsmith (full of tremor and threat)
  3. Magic or Madness, Justine Larbalestier (intriguing start)
  4. Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks (wondrous)
  5. The Radiant Way, Margaret Drabble (dense with detail)
  6. Magic Lessons, Justine Larbalestier (okaaaayy)
  7. Magic's Child, Justine Larbalestier (overall not as good as Westerfeld)
  8. How to Ditch Your Fairy, Justine Larbalestier (lightweight)
  9. Holidays from Hell, P. J. O'Rourke (enlightening)
  10. On the Jellicoe Road, Melina Marchetta (good, although the end faded for me)
  11. Unless, Carol Shields (meditative)
  12. The Sittaford Mystery, Agatha Christie (fun!! - for a murder)
  13. Crash, J.G. Ballard (hallucinatory)
  14. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Phillip K. Dick (good!)
  15. Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates (absorbing)
  16. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad (interesting but overly dramatic)
  17. The Steel Remains, Richard Morgan (uncut)
  18. The Magician's Guild, Trudi Canavan (formulaic)
  19. Black Man, Richard Morgan (twisty!)
  20. Diary of a Nobody, George Grossmith and Weedon Grossmith (lovely!!)
  21. My Israel Question, Antony Lowenstein (eye opening)
  22. The Novice, Trudi Canavan (much improved on first)
  23. The High Lord, Trudi Canavan (good conclusion)
  24. Death before Wicket, Kerry Greenwood (OTT)
  25. Angels Fall, Nora Roberts (cheese on a stick)
  26. Busconductor Hines, James Kelman (lively)
  27. Empire of the Sun, J.G. Ballard (stunning)
  28. Gossip Girl, Cecily Von Ziegesar (ehh)
  29. The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, Jennifer Crusie, Eileen Dreyer, Ann Stuart (pretty awful)
  30. Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination, Helen Fielding (Bridget is better)
  31. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (charming, plus recipes!)
  32. Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin (charming, plus san francisco!!)
  33. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre (gritty)
  34. Deadly Unna?, Phillip Gwynne (confronting)
  35. The Terminal Man, Sir Alfred Mehran (limbo)
  36. Around the World in 80 Dates, Jennifer Cox (fluff, but engaging)
  37. My Place, Sally Morgan (profound)
  38. Dreaming Down-Under - Volume 1, ed. Jack Dann and Janeen Webb (solid)
  39. Dreaming Down-Under - Volume 2, ed. Jack Dann and Janeen Webb (better)
  40. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, John le Carre (complicated)
  41. Shadows in Bronze, Lindsay Davis (a bit ADD)
  42. Cocaine Nights, J. G. Ballard (climactic)
  43. Poseiden's Gold, Linday Davis (good!)
  44. Last Act in Palmyra, Lindsay Davis (also good!)
  45. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (also good too!)
  46. The Red Queen, Margaret Drabble (a tale in two halves)
  47. Otherworld, Tad Williams (OMFG SO LOOONG! Am not reading parts 2-4)
  48. Learning to Walk, Lisa Burnette (fantastic read - very honest and open)
  49. Coraline, Neil Gaiman (short, sweet)
  50. Sexing the Cherry, Jeanette Winterson (craaazy, not at all what I expected)
  51. The Women, T.C. Boyle, (loved it!)
  52. The Whorl and the Pallin, Ian Nichols (not bad (not *great*))
  53. The Scarecrow, Sean Williams (short, sweet)
  54. The Book from Baden Dark, James Moloney (ok)
  55. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (am out of superlatives ATM, but I did like it)
  56. Shopgirl, Steve Martin (sweet)
  57. The Sea, John Banville (lyrical)
  58. Tallow, Karen Brooks (ok)
  59. Passing, Nella Larsen (eye opening)
  60. Gotta B, Claire Carmichael (ok)
  61. Time of Trial, Michael Pryor (interesting premise)
  62. Siggy and Amber, Doug MacLeod(fairly light)
  63. The Museum of Mary Child, Cassandra Golds (something special)
  64. Scribble, Gregory Bourne (irritating author, but fun)
  65. The Nest, Paul Jennings (compulsive, harrowing)
  66. Dream Raider, KC Webb (derivative, yawn)
  67. Thy Fiefdom Comes, David KoChin (omg. worst puns ever!!!)
  68. Cupid's Arrow, Isabelle Merlin (fluff)
  69. The Whale's Tale, Edwina Harvey (very small press)
  70. Jatta, Jenny Hale (good, if overwhelming)
  71. Third Transmission, Jack Heath (better than expected)
  72. The Shocking Trouble on the Planet of Shobble, L.M. Moriarty (kiddy fun)
  73. The Wicked War on the Planet of Whimsy, L.M. Moriarty (more kiddy fun)
  74. The Puzzle Ring, Kate Forsyth (clever)
  75. Silas and the Winterbottoms, Stephen M. Giles (nasty)
  76. The Zoo of Magical and Mythological Creatures, Sam Bowring (lovely!)
  77. The Reformed Vampire Support Group, Catherine Jinks (slightly feeble)
  78. A Small Free Kiss in the Dark, Glenda Millard (illuminating)
  79. Worldshaker, Richard Harland(good alternate world)
  80. Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld (great alternate world)
  81. Horn, Peter M. Ball (short, sharp, worth reading)
  82. Tears of the Giraffe, Alexander McCall Smith (lovely! more heart than #1)
  83. Liar, Justin Larbalestier (one of the best books I've read this year)
  84. Two Pearls of Wisdom, Alison Goodman(interesting premise, a bit humdrum in execution)
  85. Glasshouse, Charles Stross (took a while to get going, but interesting!)
  86. New Ceres Nights, ed. Alisa Krasnostein and Tehani Wessely (great and cohesive anthol)
  87. Peter Pan and Wendy, J. M. Barrie(very adult for a kid's book!!)
  88. The Workers Paradise, ed. Russel B. Farr and Nick Evans (interesting topic that worked pretty well as an anthol)
  89. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinback (fantastic - immense and human at the same time)
  90. Magic Dirt, Sean Williams (Ed. Russel B. Farr) (did not live up to expectations)
  91. Roadkill/Siren Beat, Rob Shearman/Tansy Rayner Roberts (great double!!)
  92. The Year's Best Australian Science Fiction And Fantasy, Volume 1, ed. Bill Congreve and Michelle Marquardt(good anthology of Aus spec fic)
  93. Slights, Kaaron Warren (meaty and complex)
  94. The Year's Best Australian Science Fiction And Fantasy, Volume 2, ed. Bill Congreve and Michelle Marquardt(more excellent Aus spec fic)