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.

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