Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

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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.

 

 

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8 Comments

Filed under Author, Book Review, Brooks - Geraldine

8 responses to “Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

  1. In a lot of the old classics, babies are simply referred to as Baby or the baby – I often wonder if that was a way of detaching from them by not giving them a name, or at least not using their name till they were past the most dangerous age. I do think women must have been able to be more philosophical about it back then – they couldn’t have survived otherwise…

    • Yes, I had noticed that but it didn’t occur to me that it was because of the high rate of infant mortality. The character who gave that piece of advice was generally cruel, but she meant well when she told Anna not to get too attached to her babies.

  2. I read this one awhile ago and remember that I really liked the book. I didn’t like March as much, although I can’t remember enough about either book to state why 😦 There is another book of hers that I read as well, called People of the Book that I also enjoyed.

    • I haven’t read People of the Book, but will eventually.
      That’s the best thing about blogging book reviews, it is always there for you to refer to!

      • Yes indeed! I can remember so much more about the books I’ve blogged about. I figure that the blog is my “reading diary” now and I must continue blogging so I remember what I read 🙂

  3. A new author to me: I’m fascinated by the idea of March especially as for reasons outside this answer I’ve been thinking about the March family and feeling that they are altogether too good for their own good (and my good)! So perhaps March would redress the balance. Year of Wonder sounds interesting. I notice you talk about men falling off pedestals in both books. I wonder if that’s coincidence or an intentional theme in her books.

    • Yes, they are all a bit too good to be true, even though Marmee and Jo had a temper and Meg and Amy were vain.
      I don’t know if the men falling off their pedestals is a theme or a coincidence, I suppose if a third novel would prove this either way.
      I read Little Women as a child and can’t wait to hear my friend’s opinion once she has read it for the first time. If you ever read it, let me know what you think.

      • It’s gone on my list. But the list is sooooooo long! When I get to it, I’ll let you know. Some time in the next century I suspect! 😉