Year of wonders by

I used to love this season. The wood stacked by the door, the tang of its sap still speaking of forest.
Geraldine Brooks - Year of Wonders - c.2001

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.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

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?

Other reviews : Quixotic Magic ; Live more now

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4 Responses

  1. aartichapati says:

    I think a lot of people are annoyed by the ending of this book! I agree it felt really off from the rest of the book, but I did enjoy imagining her off in the Middle East doing things. I should look for more by Brooks.

    • fence says:

      I wouldn't have minded the whole heading off the start a new life if it didn't seem to turn into "and everything ended happily ever after for ever and ever" without even a hint of possible tensions/troubles in her new life. Especially when it was so honest about the little unhappinesses of life throughout the rest of the book. Also, the Reverend love story didn't work for me.

      But yes, I would so read more by Brooks.

  2. Marg says:

    It is interesting because I really disliked the ending too. I went to an event where Geraldine Brooks was asked a question about the ending and lots of people in the crowd indicated that they didn't like it. I was therefore surprised when she said that the ending was actually based on the diaries of a young woman of the time who had the experience that was described.

    • fence says:

      It wasn't so much the events themselves that bothered me, well apart from the sex scenes which I didn't think quite fit with the development of the characters, it was more the way they were described. As though once away from the village everything suddenly turned wonderful and happy ever after.
      After such a nuanced and well developed story it felt really strange to me.