Year of Wonders

Geraldine Brooks
Harper Collins

A young woman’s struggle to save her family and her soul during 1666, when plague suddenly visited a small Derbyshire village.  

Desperate, the villagers turn to sorcery, herb lore, and murderous witch-hunting until, led by a young, charismatic preacher, they elect to isolate themselves in a fatal quarantine.

The story is told through the eyes of Anna Frith who, at 18, must contend with the death of her family, the disintegration of her society, and the lure of a dangerous and illicit attraction. The novel explores love and learning, fear and fanaticism, and the struggle of 17th century science and religion to deal with a seemingly diabolical pestilence.

 

Local Book Reviewers

Elizabeth Pascoe
Geraldine Brooks has taken the title of this book from a poem written by John Dryden, Annus Mirabilis (Latin for year of miracles). This historical novel is based on events from later 1665 to November 1666, in the village of Eyam in the Derbyshire Dales.

The author has balanced the awfulness of the plague and how it affected residents with beautiful descriptions of the surrounding countryside. We are shown frailty, ignorance, suspicion, brutality and mayhem counterbalanced with love, compassion, and grit not to give in to the disease. It was an interesting read but the ending was a little too syrupy for my taste.

Tony Harrington
I found this novel well crafted and an interesting story. It was a little heavy going initially but lightened up as the story progressed and a bit Mills and Boonish towards the end.

The main characters, Mr Mompellion and Anna Frith, are slightly unrealistic and a little too wonderful in this year of sorrows. Also, Anna’s father had no redeeming qualities. However, the overdone characterisation helped spice up the narrative with its themes of tragedy, good and evil.

It made me wonder how I would act faced with a similar family and community disaster. Not a bad effort for a fictional debut. Support Australian authors. 7/10

John Kleinschmidt
This is not a book I would enthusiastically recommend to friends. While the author has written in a style that makes the characters and their lifestyle believable for England in the 17th century, the storyline is a confusion of fact and fiction, not at all convincing in the way plague spreads through the village and to those that survive or perish.

On the positive side, Geraldine Brooks develops and describes her characters so well that you see them, both good and evil, very clearly, and the setting for the story is vividly painted in the reader’s mind.

Mary Barber
Do yourself a favour and read this book. It is told from the point of view of Anna, a lowly maid who works at the vicarage in her small English village. As the plague progresses, Anna takes on new roles such as midwife and herbalist. Her skills and confidence grow with what life has thrust upon her.

Her sorrows compound too. Brooks has crafted a beautiful novel. She uses words and phrases that bring the reader smack-bang into Anna’s rural life. I genuinely connected with Anna and the challenges she faced. Twists in the final chapters were unexpected and kept me wondering until the end.

Sheila Bryden
I enjoyed this book the first time I read it but have changed my view after reading other historical fiction, a genre that not everyone writes well. The heart of the story, a village beset by the plague choosing to isolate itself from other communities, remains strong.

As this was based on true events, the reader can only admire and wonder at the selfless actions of the villagers.

The author has written a well-researched fictional account of that event and gives a strong and convincing voice to Anna, the protagonist of the story. However, that wasn’t enough for me to enjoy a second reading.  

Jo Bourke
I love a novel based on fact. I love it more when the characters are fleshed out so vividly they become part of the reader’s thoughts while turning the pages. Initially I was distracted by the use of “ye olde English” words (perhaps there could have been a glossary) but that soon passed. There were certainly no “wonders” for close to two-thirds of the book, as people were dropping like flies.

Descriptions were harsh and the gloom compounded by the fanaticism of the Rector convincing villagers to isolate themselves. The wonder to me was Anna’s journey to maturity. I quite liked her by the conclusion, which was climactic and unexpected. Worth reading!