Author: Geraldine Brooks
Genre: Historical Fiction
What you'll love: Great imagery!
What will bug you: Depressing start, and mixed feelings about certain characters.
I bumped "Year of Wonders" to the top of my nightstand pile after hearing rave reviews from Kathy. Thank you for recommending it - I loved it! Although you wouldn't know it because it took me over a month to read (!!!), this was a really fantastic book.
A bolt of cloth carries the plague to an isolated village in England, 1666. The story is told from the perspective of Anna Firth. Led by their minister, Michael Mompellion, the village elects to quarantine themselves in an effort to stop the spread of the disease. Anna witnesses the transformation her village undergoes as the people struggle to survive.
We should start by talking about the language. This is one of the main reasons I love Geraldine Brooks. OK - dork alert - if I come across a passage in a book that is pleasing to me (usually because it describes something vividly), I write it down. I started doing this recently, and about 50% of the passages/sentences are by Geraldine Brooks.
Our only strong hue is green, and this we have in every shade: the emerald velvet mosses, the glossy, tangled ivies, and in spring, the gold-greens of tender new grasses. For the rest, we move through a patchwork of grays. The limestone outcropts are a whitish-gray, the millstone grit from which we build our cottages a warmer grayish-yellow. Gray is the sky color here, the dove-breast clouds louring so upon the hilltops that sometimes you feel you could just reach up and bury your hands in their softness.Can you picture this clearly? How about this one?
I crept upstairs in the buttery summer light and stood outside her bedchamber, listening for sounds from within.I love the language, and I love being able to picture the world that she is creating for the reader.
A few years ago, I read "Snowflower and the Secret Fan". I was so intrigued with foot binding that I searched all over the web for it - my own little research project. I had a similar reaction to the plague. Warning - the images in these next two links are freaky - click with caution! I searched for images of people with the plague, and for images of plague doctor's masks (which I had heard about but didn't know anything about). It was very interesting. I was glad to see that Brooks gave a little synopsis of the disease in her afterword.
It was interesting to see the progression that the village takes - first with prayers, and later with superstition and even violence. I am interested by "crowd mentality" and how people behave in situations where they are swept away by hysteria. How unfortunate that people did not understand how the disease was spread - and in the end, the declaration that they burn their worldly possessions was probably what put an end to the sickness, although not for the reason the suspected. I am also interested in the concept of sacrifice - how when push comes to shove, there are some who think of the greater good, and some who think only of themselves. As Brooks writes - "So, as generally happens, those who have most give least, and those with less somehow make shrift to share." I find this true (generally speaking, or course...).
I loved the transformation of Anna Firth. She begins the story as a meek young woman and emerges as strong and confident. She is a great character.
I am interested to hear your thoughts on Michael Mompellion. He is a character I feel conflicted about - and I can't say any more because I would have to spoil the ending for you. I will only say that I think I understand his reasoning. Am I being cryptic? :)
A truly wonderful book - another gem from Brooks. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!