45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on 29 September 2003
Set in the Derbyshire countryside in 1666, THE YEAR OF WONDERS details the accounts of a small village ravaged by the Plague. Told exclusively from the first-person account of Anna Firth, a young hardworking widow and mother of two young children, who is employed in the residence of Michael Mompellion, the rector, and his wife, Elinor. After the Plague was incidentally transported to the village inside a bolt of fabric the disease spreads fast and eventually kills one third of the population of the village. The village voluntarily quarantines themselves from any outside contact in a hope to contain the infection. During these desperate months Anna takes it upon herself to help ease the pain of others. In her efforts she forges a strong friendship with Elinor while learning and studying natural remedies and therapies. Helping others aids her in helping ease the pain of her own loss to the Plague.
THE YEAR OF WONDERS is not a typical work of historical fiction. According to the book's Afterword this story was inspired by the true story of the villagers of Eyam, Derbyshire and their own historical account of the Plague. While hiking through the English countryside Geraldine Brooks encountered a finger post pointing the way to the 'Plague Village'. Months of painful research concluded in the writing of this book, and a recreation of how a village struggled against a deadly disease while trying to maintain social order. While Brooks took some liberties in the development of the plot, but some aspects are rooted in truth including several true identities and names. The title of the book reflects worldly events and the strong belief that God works in mysterious ways.
I only wish that Brooks included more social and historical background to the events that were simply alluded to. This would strengthen the plot and make reading more beneficial. Otherwise, I felt left in the dark when events such as the war with the Dutch were briefly mentioned. A very brief summary was included in the Afterword but it seemed too little too late. Otherwise, Brooks did a good job recreating the events occurring in Eyam during the Plague year of 1666.
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on 9 July 2007
Oh alright, I'll admit it: I got this free with The Times. As such I didn't expect much at all, given that life-changing reads tend to come on the ends of friends' arms or hidden in bookshops etc etc. Year of Wonders absolutely blew my socks off.
Brooks's writing plunges you straight into the fears, smells and surroundings of this village and its terrible encounter with the plague, while keeping you hanging onto the characters and their beautifully-developed problems and lives. A devastating sting in the tale seals a superb book off brilliantly.
Grab it for your holiday this summer - you'll race through it and can have the satisfaction of looking a cut above the pink bonkbuster readers too.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 2 November 2011
This was recommended to me by a colleague, and I read it from cover to cover last night. I have very mixed feelings about this book!
I enjoyed the majority of the descriptive writing and the subject matter - I am fascinated by diseases such as the Plague and their symptoms and ultimately awful conclusion. The research on the illness itself, plus the medical "science" of the time was very well done and well conveyed in the book as she described the plague year that the village endured - although I felt she could have done a lot more in terms of the atmosphere in the village. At some points the writing felt quite wooden and superficial with no real shivery-horror feeling that should have been there. "Whoops, another death, oh dear, what a shame." I also at some points wasn't sure what timescale we were working in - how long had the tailor been there before the plague arrived? Why was there apparently such a long gap between the tailor's death and then the first deaths of the villagers, especially with such a virulent disease?
I liked the idea of the book being narrated by one central character - Anna. However, I found it almost impossible to believe she would speak and act as she did, given the period of time the book is set in, the deprivation the villagers would have endured (even more so when the quarantined was effected) and the fact that she was ultimately from a (very) poor mining family. Her manner and way of speaking would have much more suited to a wealthy family. Also in terms of ability I found it really hard to believe that she would have been able to turn her hand to so many different things (including lead mining!). That all sounds very negative but I still enjoyed the way in which the book was done, I just felt it could all have been even more believable, especially since it is based on historical facts. I had no real impression that we were actually back in the 17th century; it felt like a much later time-period.
Primarily though the major downside to this book was the absolutely beyond AWFUL ending, as so many other reviewers have pointed out. I felt it was totally out of place and completely spoilt virtually everything which had gone before. I have no idea what the author was thinking when she wrote it and it was totally unbelievable. As someone else had said, the final part (not just the epilogue, but a little before that as well) felt like a totally different person had taken over. An extremely poor and disappointing way to finish what was, on the whole, a well-written book.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 30 May 2006
If you are interested in how the villge of Eyam survived the Plague in the 17th century, then you will love this book."Montaillou" it isn't, but it does succeed in putting a national disaster into a human context. A little too many suppurating boils and purple prose for my liking, but on the whole a gripping read.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 5 August 2006
I think this novel is faithful to the true story of the Eyam plague which broke out in 1665 and is an example of human strength in times of extreme adversity.
The book centres around Anna, a young woman who escapes infection. She is one of the central figures, helping to nurse the afflicted and trying to continue village life insofar as that was possible. The tale follows her throughout the plague year and examines her relationship with the various villagers.
You do get a real sense of what it must have been like to live amidst the devastation and the practical difficulties they faced. I was horrified at the descriptions of the disease and how it took hold so savagely.
The only part that spoiled to book for me was the ending. After a very readable and convincing tale it suddenly became farcical and unbelievable. It's as if a completely different person took over writing the ending, with disastrous results. Still a very enjoyable read though.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on 4 September 2001
I found this book a great read and a revelation. It is a fictionalised account of the true story of a Derbyshire village struck down by the plague in 1666. The details of speech and local customs -right down to animal husbandry and the arcane rules of lead mining - are so well rendered it's hard to believe the author wasn't there. Yet despite these historical details the imprint of hours in the library does not hang heavy on the story. It is a gripping read, quite dark in places, sexy in others and gripping throughout. I learned a lot from it while being swept along by the suspense and the totally believable characters. There is an air of Bronte about it at times (although it is of a much earlier period)- and I mean that as the highest compliment.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2009
This is the first time I've read a novel by Geraldine Brooks's. I like reading authors I've never heard of before and always keep an open mind.
This novel is set in Derbyshire and the plague of the 17th Century that's been carried to a little village from the big city of London by a man who's a tailor by trade.
One by one villagers die, people want to leave the village, but one man the rector agrees with them saying they are better of isolating themselves and trying to keep them illness contained as they are putting other peoples lives at risk if they try to run from the plague. The villagers struggle and start to resort to violence and losing themselves in drink.
A young widow called Anna Frith stays and helps the rector and his wife, Anna helps by looking after the dying and their families.
The author takes you on an emotional journey, which in places I found a little upsetting. The novel is well written; it's interesting but be warned, it's very morbid.
It's not a book that everyone will want to read and some readers may even struggle to finish it. If you're interested in history, especially this period then you'll find it interesting and informative. :-)
If your expecting or wanting a light read then this isn't the book for you.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
In 1666 the small village of Eyam in Derbyshire suddenly faced a terrible fate when a cloth brought from London carried the bubonic plague. As the rest of northern England was still untouched by the plague, the villagers of Eyam, led by a charismatic young priest, bravely decided to isolate themselves in order to prevent the disease from spreading. Their self-imposed quarantine lasted for a year, and as the poor villagers saw one by one, their friends and neighbours dieing, they faced their worst demons, but also found incredible strength and compassion. The story is told by Anna Frith, the priest's eighteen year old servant, who during this year of wonders, lost everything and found the strength to rebuilt her life and evolve from a timid and uneducated girl, to a strong and skilled woman.
The book is excellently written and I really couldn't put it down. The world of 17th century rural England is brilliantly recreated, with amazing descriptions and historical detail. The characters are well developed, realistic, and drawn with a great understanding of their social environment, their religious and political beliefs, and also their superstitions and fears. Although there isn't really any element of suspense in the novel, as it is based on a true story and we know from the beginning that the quarantine was fatal for most of the villagers, the plot is fascinating and gripping.
Even though I did find the novel excellently written, I have mixed feelings about it, as the ending spoiled everything. As I don't want to go into details and reveal the ending, I can only say that it was unexpected, abrupt, truly unrealistic, and canceled all the progress the characters made throughout the novel. It really is a shame, as the book is great up until the last couple of chapters, when all falls apart.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This was chosen by my book group as our August read and I was really looking forward to it. I love historical fiction and thought this would be right up my street. The book is based aroung a true story involving the village of Eyam, where the villagers sacrificed themselves by shutting off their village from the plague. It is told from the point of view of Anna Frith, a young woman who lives in the village.
Instantly I loved Geraldine Brooks' writing. It made you feel like you were in the room with the characters. This feeling only intensified as the book went along and I felt claustrophobic, as the plague took control of the village.
Anna's character was very likeable and I felt so sorry for her. The tragedies she suffered made it even more remarkable that she devoted her time to helping those that were infected with the plague. There was a clear divide between the 'good' characters and the 'bad' characters but Anna's father just made me feel physically sick. How you could prey on people's misfortune in that way is beyond me.
There were lots of things going on in the book - plague, witchcraft, prostitution, self-punishment, murder - which at times felt really oppressive. I am still undecided whether there was just too much happening or whether this only intensified the story. It did start to get me down at times.
I raced through this story in two days and fully expected to rave about it at my book group meeting...until the ending. The murder of Elinor made me laugh and I am sure this was not the author's intention. It was frankly ridiculous and one step too far for me. It seemed a case of 'what can I throw in now?' Add this into the ending, which I knew would happen, and it's a book I liked rather than loved. It made me really cross as I felt it was such a cliched thing to do.
All in all, I enjoyed this book and I would recommend it, although it's not a read for the faint-hearted. If it had ended twenty pages before it did, it would have been my read of the year. As it stands it's just a good book with a poor ending.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I saw a review of this book in Writing Magazine and instantly I wanted to read it. It would have been irrelevant what the review actually said (although it was positive) because a) I don't tend to take much notice of reviews as I like to form my own opinions and b) the subject matter interested me. Year of Wonders is set in Eyam (pronounced Eem) in the Peak District, Derbyshire. Being a Derbyshire lass myself, the tale of this village was taught to me at a very early age at school, and has been a source of perhaps morbid fascination ever since. If you have no idea what I'm talking about then I'll give a brief breakdown.
Eyam is a relatively famous village (dependent on where you're from, presumably the further away you live, the less likely you are to know about it) because of extraordinary events in 1666. A quiet village high up in the beautiful Peak District, nobody ever expected the disease of filthy towns and cities to reach there. However, the Great Plague (also known as the Black Death, or more simply, the Plague) did reach Eyam, and although it was never confirmed, it was suspected that it was brought in on some cloth sent to a tailor in the village from London. Once the villagers realised what the affliction was, rather than running away and risking passing infection onto others, they decided to quarantine themselves until the disease died out. As their numbers rapidly dwindled, they would get supplies from surrounding villages by leaving lists of their requirements and payment at what they called the "Boundary Stone." Only when the Eyam villagers had moved to a safe distance would a messenger come to collect the money and lists. They would return at set times to deliver their supplies, and this way, the Plague did not spread to surrounding areas and kill even more people. It died out in Eyam where the people had made a huge and very brave sacrifice.
Year of Wonders is a novel based on these facts and follows the story of young Anna Frith, whose life was thrown into turmoil by the Plague. As a servant of the Rector and his wife, she saw first-hand people in the midst of the Plague fever, and saw them die in most undignified ways and horrific pain. Unselfish to the end, Anna does all she can to help the village through its darkest months, all the while she has to cope with her own personal tragedies - seeing both her young sons die before her eyes. I think my previous knowledge made the book all the more enjoyable, as I already knew about the true events which inspired Brooks to write it. However, even if you have never heard this tragic tale of bravery and sacrifice before, it is a truly remarkable book and it had me hooked right from the first page. A unique and captivating read.