Year of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks. 17th Century Historical Fiction.
This was a book I picked up for the Historical Fiction Coursera Course mentioned elsewhere and I can see why it was chosen.
This is a very emotive book and not for the faint of heart. There is a lot of tragedy and death but there is so much more – love, hope, fear, hate and pretty much every emotion one can think of. It was all the more moving as it is based on true events.
Set at the time of the Black Death in a small village called Eyam, in rural England, the author has done a lot of research to paint a vivid picture of the 17th Century, with all its religious turbulence, simplistic way of life and the fears of the inhabitants. Plague was a very real, very misunderstood disease which killed very many people and indeed in this microcosm of society the death count is high. The people of the village decide to shut themselves off in their village – no one is allowed in or out, in the hope they will not spread the Plague further. It is no light decision as this means they must help themselves, and as the death count rises find skills they did not know they possessed or go without.
Told from the point of view of an intelligent and resourceful widow it also shows the trials a woman might face, especially one with knowledge such as herb-lore or other teaching. Anna Frith is not your usual servant, nor is she content to be and the book is as much about her journey of self-discovery as it is about the plague itself.
There are some harrowing revelations and as Anna finds herself the male main character loses himself.
Well written the characters are engaging, poignant and varied. Some are likable and some are most certainly not.
Why not 5 stars? I was not entirely convinced by the ending, although it did wrap up well enough I thought it could have given a hint of what happened in Eyam. It also seemed a little rushed.
I would recommend this as an interesting and emotional read for those who like historical fiction, 17th Century history and books about resourceful women.