Valorie's Reviews > Year of Wonders

Year of Wonders by Geraldine  Brooks
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May 01, 09

bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read in February, 2009

The year is 1665 CE. A traveling tailor named George Viccars finds himself in a small Derbyshire village located in central England. Unknown to him and the village that takes him in, his residence being with a widower named Anna Frith who has two sons, he is carrying the plague. After his death, his goods spread and with them the deadly plague. The town vicar, Michael Mompellion, and his wife Elinor convince the people of the village to contain themselves within their walls in order to keep from spreading the plague to the rest of England. As the author states, this story is based on an actual event that happened in a village aptly known as Plague Village. Though the village people could very well flee and perhaps outrun the disease, they (for the most part) remain in their village to wait out the disease. Convinced that this plague is a trial sent by God, the people come together even as some of them fall apart. Innocent herbal women are beaten as witches, men and women seek to repent with violent means of self-mortification, and anger runs rampant. In the face of oblivion, moral codes and personal virtues are abandoned for pleasure and destructive behavior makes it all the easier for people to forget. The people of the village struggle with each other, their personal connections, and their connection to God. Eventually, they begin to question the nature of their suffering and God’s ultimate plan.

This story is how people manage. It is about how people stay strong and how they break down.

Personally, I liked the story. I think anyone who has read my previous reviews knows how I feel about accuracy in historical fiction: while I enjoy critiquing historical fiction for accuracy, I also don’t expect it. I’m realistic and perhaps overly forgiving in that I accept details must be altered or exaggerated for understanding or dramatic effect. After all, we don’t want fiction to read as a tedious textbook! Attentions have to be grabbed, held, and kept until the end.

Did this book that? Yes and no. Sometimes I felt the story dragging on and on. For the first few chapters, I read very slowly. Eventually, though, as the story moved on, I found it becoming more interesting. About the middle to nearly the end, I couldn’t put the book down.

Nearly the end.

I found myself wondering if Anna were superwoman for all she had managed to do in that time between the plague coming and finally disappearing. She was a simple peasant and servant, yet she could interpret Latin, create herbal remedies, ride a horse like a man, act as a midwife and deliver a breech baby, set a fire to mine iron even though she herself stated that she’d never even seen the inside of a mine… yes, the woman can and does do everything. Even those things well above her station as a servant. I think it was the excessive nature of her talents that started to annoy me and grate on my nerves. If not for Anna’s shows of occasional modesty that seemed sincere, she would have been a Mary Sue. After a while, I began to wonder if Anna was going to start to sparkle and cure the plague with her tears. When she began yelling at her former masters and acting well out of her station, I had to wonder if Brooks was paying any attention to realistic social boundaries of the time. Again, this might not have annoyed me had I not grown weary of Anna’s super talents. Though I say annoyed above, I mean it in a very amused way. I don’t get angry about books, at least not often. I just found myself shaking my head and snorting at certain parts of the books. And why would a rich Muslim doctor marry a widowed infidel from England?

There’s also much romance to be had. Okay, there is supposed to be romance. Up until Anna and the vicar Mompellion connected eyes over a shave towards the end of the book, there was absolutely no chemistry between them. Yet all of a sudden the two of them were copulating on the floor in a manner totally unlike an Anglican man of God and a modest, holy servant. The romance between them came completely out of nowhere. I guess I should have seen it coming when throughout the book Brooks dedicated countless lines of adjectives and praise for things like the commanding boom of the Mompellion’s voice, or his strong arms, or his dominating nature. I thought it a bit odd that he was being described in ‘romance book terms,’ yet there was absolutely no personal intimate chemistry between him and Anna.

And I am still disappointed in the turn Mompellion’s character made towards the end. It was so completely out of his character that I had trouble accepting it. Twists are one thing, but making a character into something opposite with no hints to his true nature is just out of the blue and confusing.

I know that I sound overly critical, but book readers know that a book can be flawed while still being a very great story. I liked the morbidity of the story; witnessing the breakdown of the people in this town as they battled adversity and death was fascinating. It was unreal to me to submit myself to death in the way the town people did. I had to commend the bravery of Brooks' characters, even as I condemned them for their actions in other regards. Yet, it was understandable how they behaved under certain circumstances. When faced with death, who knows what one would do or how to cope? And yes, Anna had her moments, but I found her a very likable character.

This book was like sociology and morbid psychology in action.

Year of Wonders is actually a very good book. It is a good and interesting read. You will read the book and find yourself captivated by much. I didn’t grow bored with what I read, even as I snorted in mirth. If you like historically based novels with a lot of drama and a fair mixture of people going absolutely crazy, you’ll really enjoy this one. I did.
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