Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague
by Geraldine Brooks
Our book club undertook Year of Wonders by Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks. There are many things to recommend it, especially the depth of character development. Also prominent is the ability of the author to immerse the reader in the year 1665 in a small town in England where women of all classes were subject to the whims and humiliation of men.
We divided the reading and the discussion into two parts. The first half of the book was well received even though graphic descriptions of the Plague were tough to read. Several of us had to put the book aside for a time because of the horrors of the Plague and the difficult lives of the characters.
The ending of the book was met with a consensus of disappointment. After detailed and extensive exploration of the characters, author Brooks turns everything upside down leaving a shambles of motivations and actions that are disjointed based on expectations drawn from previous descriptions of their personalities. There is a baseness and meanness rising to the surface of characters who have been portrayed as admirable. The theology exposed by the ministers is not Biblically sound, but if one were to read the notes at the end of the book, it would not be surprising as the author refers to herself as having a “secular mind.” This is a dark book and not one that I would recommend mainly because the ending tries to provide closure much too quickly and, in the process, rather bizarrely changes the essential characters of all the major actors in the story.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Historical Fiction
Notes: This book includes an afterword, interview with the author, and discussion questions.
Publication: April 30, 2002—Penguin Books
I liked her, too, because it takes a kind of courage to care so little for what people whisper, especially in a place as small as this…She was a rare creature, Anys Gowdie, and I had to own that I admired her for listening to her own heart rather than having her life filled by others’ conventions.
And so, as generally happens, those who have most give least, and those with less somehow make shrift to share.
“…we must take stock of these herbs and such remedies as the Gowdies may have left here. The key to defeating this Plague, I am convinced, must lie here, in the virtue of such plants as can be used to nourish those who remain in health. We must strengthen our bodies that we may continue to resist contagion.”