Saturday, 21 August 2010

Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks

When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated mountain village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna's eyes, we follow the story of the plague year, 1666, as her fellow villagers make an extraordinary choice. Convinced by a visionary young minister, they elect to quarantine themselves within the village boundaries to arrest the spread of the disease. But as death reaches into every household, faith frays. When villagers turn from prayers and herbal cures to sorcery and murderous witch-hunting, Anna must confront the deaths of family, the disintegration of her community, and the lure of a dangerous and illicit love. As she struggles to survive, a year of plague becomes, instead, annus mirabilis, a "year of wonders." Inspired by the true story of Eyam, a village in the rugged mountain spine of England. Year of Wonders is a detailed evocation of a singular moment in history. 

I loved this book right up until the end where it skipped to the present day after the plague with Anna and the minister. At this point, it got a bit too weird for me and there were some moments where I had to reread sections and wonder why they were relevant to the story. So the bizarre ending pulls the rating down a little bit. However, the rest of the book was completely enthralling. I read a similar book about a town that cuts itself off during an epidemic - Thomas Mullen's The Last Town on Earth - and this prompted me to look for books with similar topics. Geraldine Brooks was recommended to me and this book languished on my shelves for ages before I picked it up on a whim. I immediately found myself pulled into the world of 1600s England - which, fortunately, I studied this semester at university - and felt the pain of Anna and her neighbours. This was a truly fascinating book, full of historical insight into the medicines and superstitions of the period - two subjects which I'd not particularly been interested in prior to reading this book but which I found incredibly interesting to learn about. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about late 17th century England, or the growth of medicine, or witchcraft accusations and superstitious belief, or plagues. This book covers a range of topics and is difficult to put down once you've started, even if the storyline is obviously a sad one. My only complaint is the bizarre ending - some aspects of it worked well, and I liked that Anna was given a new life, but the part with the minister really seemed unneeded. Overall, 8/10

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