The year is 1665 and Anna Frith is a widow at only 18 years of age. She has two young sons to support and she works hard. Life in a small village is hard, but she has support from her community and a job with the rector that help her earn her way. But her life is about to change, the life of everyone in the village is about to change, because the plague has come to Eyam.Many people in London have fled the city, but the people of Eyam come together and decide to react differently. They will stay put, they will not risk infecting others with the disease but instead will isolate themselves from everyone else and hope, somehow, to get through it.
I loved the first half of this book, and more. It is wonderfully written, Anna’s voice is so perfect. She is young and has grown up uneducated in many ways, but she is intelligent and is quick to learn. So when she offered the opportunity to expand her education she takes it. She has had a hard childhood but a good marriage. It ended with her husband’s death in the mine and her circumstances have changed, and through the course of the book she lives through even more death and tragedy. She learns so much and really grows and develops as a person. I loved watching the little details of village life through her eyes. The descriptions are so well observed and described.
But the ending.
Urgh, it didn’t quite ruin the book for me, but it really did not work for me. Show Spoiler ▼
I’d still recommend the book, it is beautifully told, and it is a nice challenge to all those books that seem to think everyone was superstitious a down-trodden in the middle ages. Superstition certainly makes it’s mark here, as it did in real life, but there was more to people than that, even if that is what we remember today. I also liked how Anna worked within the constraints of her time. She was a poor woman in dire circumstances. She couldn’t afford to keep to the strict gendered roles that may have been fine when situations were more normal. The Black Death had a huge effect on the social roles of England because of the loss of population. Things could not just go back to the way they were before, and Brooks makes that very obvious, the plague had long lasting effects.
So, all in all, I’d recommend this, but not whole-heartedly, but maybe you won’t object to the ending as I did. I think I might try another of Brooks at some time as I think this was her first novel, so maybe she doesn’t do the same weird ending with her later work?