Year of Wonders is by Geraldine Brooks, who wrote the best-seller March.
March is the story of the father in Little Women while he was away at the Civil War, and it was a shock to my system. I expected Mr March to be good, in the way that Beth and his other ‘Little Women’ were, but instead I learned that Mr March sometimes does the wrong thing. I didn’t enjoy March because it made me feel as if a hero had fallen from his pedestal, although maybe that was the point. I only read Year of Wonders because a friend loaned me her copy. Funnily enough, I’ve loaned my friend Little Women to read before she reads March.
Year of Wonders is the story of Anna Frith, a young widow living in an English farming community in 1666, at a time when plague was decimating the population. After her husband died in a mining accident, Anna took in a boarder from London who unwittingly brought the plague to the area. After her boarder died, plague spread throughout the community, with Anna’s two young sons amongst the earliest victims.
Despite her grief, Anna worked tirelessly beside the minister and his wife as their community rapidly lost numbers to the plague. The minister asked their neighbours to quarantine themselves within the town’s boundaries and most agreed, although the richest family in the district left the area as quickly as they could.
Anna works as a servant to the minister and his wife, Elinor, and during the year had the opportunity to learn and grow from her proximity in particular to Elinor, whose goodness is almost saintly. Anna’s behaviour to me seems almost saintly too, and during the year in which the story takes place, she acts as a midwife, nurses countless plague victims and learns about herbs and their healing powers as she and Elinor attempt to curb the disease in their community. Anna and Elinor also become very dear friends. During this time the minister provides spiritual comfort to the dying, as well as practical help by digging graves.
When Elinor is murdered the minister falls apart emotionally. Anna continues with her work, and also continues to protect the minister, despite learning secrets about his and Elinor’s relationship which cause him to fall from the pedestal Anna had placed him on.
The one thing that I think I will remember about this book for the rest of my life was a female character warning Anna not to get too attached to her babies. This was because so many babies died, not just from the plague, but from all sorts of other diseases which babies in first world countries don’t die from anymore. Heartbreaking.
While I enjoyed the first part of the story and particularly liked Anna and her strength of character, I thought the last part of the book went a little bit off course. I also thought that the twist revealed in the epilogue was too predictable. However, Year of Wonders is a good book and I imagine most people who read it will take something from it, and you can’t say that about every book you read.