Year Of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks

Just back from holiday where I managed to finally read a book that was lent to me some time ago.

The book is a novel based on fact.

The fact:

  • 1665 a year of plague in England.
  • A small English village of lead miners, shepherds, cobblers and weavers called Eyam.
  • A parish priest who convinced the village to quarantine themselves to prevent the spread to the neighbouring communities.
  • Fear of the unknown and of change.
  • The beginning of the Age of Enlightenment.
  • The end of Cromwell’s Puritanism Age.
  • New discoveries is science and medicine.
  • Death.

These facts are told through the fictional narration of Anna a young woman of the village.  Through her we hear of the villagers struggles and sorrow, of their little moments of joy, of their fear and what it drives them to.  We read of faith tested to the limit, of the struggles between the old and new, of the resilience of human nature and in a surprising twist at the end a reminder that acceptance has no boundaries.

The story is beautifully and tenderly written, even the horrors within it, it informs and engages and is a book which I will most probably end up buying my own copy of.  One of the biggest surprises of the book has to be the way it handles so many subjects without them seeming out-of-place.  On one page I was learning about hand lead mining, the next plunged me into theological reflection (there were lots of those moments), a chapter further on was herbs or sheep, while others enriched my historical knowledge and still others left me giving thanks for the wonders of the modern world.

If you were wondering it would make a great book for a Book Group.

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6 thoughts on “Year Of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks

  1. I have found what I wrote at the time:

    Swallow Bookworms’ choice for April 2008 is Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks which tells the story of the plague year in the village of Eyam.

    Of course this story has been much retold (as the author reminds us in her afterword) in numerous forms both factual and fictionalised. Her central character, Anna, is based on a single sentence in a letter by the rector William Mompesson “My maid continued in health; which was a blessing, for had she quailed, I should have been ill set . . .”

    Why couldn’t she have left it there with that one fictionalised character fleshed out against a background of known facts? Why did she have to replace the fascinating characters of William Mompesson and his wife Catherine with improbable and melodramatic nonsense about Michael and Elinor Mompellion?

    The history of the plague village is dramatic enough without adding layers of witchcraft, child abuse, adultery and – worst of all – a silly tacked on Epilogue when we are told what happened next to Anna.

    The sad thing is that this is quite a well written book and a genuine page-turner: if only she had had the courage to explore the real people and not – in her own words – fed on ‘short rations’ by the factual record.

    There was also the possibility that she could have put in all the stories she wanted to and just not called the village Eyam, but allowed that her fictional village was inspired by the history of Eyam, but was a work of complete fiction. It was the unhappy marriage of fiction tagged on to history and thus marred which so annoyed me. I am happy with historical fiction in which real people and places make appearances which are in keeping with the known facts, but all the central characters are fictitious. I am happy with fictionalised history where one fictional or little known character tells the story of real times, places and people. It is the replacing of real – and quite well documented – people which really irritates me and spoils the whole book.

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  2. Others may dislike it, in fact it would be a very dull world indeed if we all liked the same things, but I for one found it a beautifully written piece of fiction it makes no claims to be anything other than fiction.

    I have added a link to your review to you orginal comment.

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