What Amazon says: “Geraldine Brooks’s Year of Wonders describes the 17th-century plague that is carried from London to a small Derbyshire village by an itinerant tailor. As villagers begin, one by one, to die, the rest face a choice. Do they flee their village in the hope of outrunning the plague or do they stay? The lord of the manor and his family pack and leave. The rector, Michael Mompellion, argues forcefully that the villagers should stay put, isolate themselves from neighbouring towns and villages and prevent the contagion from spreading. His oratory wins the day and the village turns in on itself. Cocooned from the outside world and ravaged by the disease, its inhabitants struggle to retain their humanity in the face of the disaster. The narrator, a young widow called Anna Frith, is one of the few who succeeds. Together with Mompellion and his wife Elinor, she tends the dying and battles to prevent her fellow villagers from descending into drink, violence and superstition. All is complicated by the intense, unacknowledgeable feelings she develops for both the rector and his wife. Year of Wonderssometimes seems anachronistic as historical fiction. Anna and Mompellion can occasionally appear to be modern sensibilities unaccountably transferred to 17th-century Derbyshire. However there is no mistaking the power of Brooks’s imagination or the skill with which she constructs her story of ordinary people struggling to cope with extraordinary circumstances.”
What I thought: I picked this straight up after having read People of the Book also by Brooks and having loved it. I then read Year of Wonders in a day as I couldn’t put it down, and was all set to give it 5 stars until the epilogue (more on that later).
This book is based on the true story of the village of Eyam in Derbyshire in 1665 when the Plague arrived in a trunk of fabric sent from London. The Village of 300 or so people took an oath with their Parish Priest not to leave the village, therefore containing the disease and potentially saving thousands of lives. Of the 300 or so villagers in Eyam, within one year over 200 of them were dead. For more than a year, nobody came in and nobody went out. They were left food and supplies in a hole in the wall of the boundary stone up on the hills by kind people from the surrounding villages.
- The plague cottages
The story is told by Anna Frith, an 18 year old widow, who loses her 2 tiny boys to the plague and then goes on to comfort and help other villlgers through this horrible year as their loved ones too succumb to Plague.
Although some of the characters were real people (George Viccars was the tailor who recived the box of fabric and was the first person in the village to die), and Anna’s neighbour Mary Hadfield who lost her husband and 3 children also existed. Other characters have been based on real people, for example Brooks’ Priest Michael Monpellion was based on the real Vicar William Mompesson but she changed his name as she also changed his character.
Having been to Eyam several times (you can still visit the Plague cottages there) I thoroughly enjoyed this book as it brought to life a time that seems so beyond our comprehension. However, much as I loved it the ending almost sopilt it for me. I don’t want to ruin it so I won’t say what happens but I found it slightly silly in that it just didn’t seem to fit the story at all.
All in all though, a great story of endurance, love and hope in a truly terrible time in history which is made all the more frightening because it actually happened. I would highly recommed this book.