Friday, February 5, 2010

Review: Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Title: Year of Wonders
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Fourth Estate, 2001


In August of 1665 a bolt of flea infested cloth from plague-stricken London was delivered to a tailor in the small and quiet village of Eyam in Derbyshire, England. Within a week the tailor was dead and the dreaded sickness was spreading through the village. Following the advice of the young Rector William Mompesson and the previous Puritan incumbent Thomas Stanley the extraordinary decision was made to voluntarily place the village in quarantine. Fourteen months later three quarters of the village population had died but their courageous action had prevented the plague from spreading further.

Geraldine Brooks has taken this true event and woven it into a spellbinding story rich in descriptive prose and
vivid in characterisation.

The year unfolds through the eyes of eighteen-year-old Anna Frith, widowed and mother of two small sons, who is the housekeeper for the Rector and his wife. In the coming months she will confront the daily presence of death , the loss of her family and friends, the disintegration of her community, and the lure of a dangerous and illicit love.
Death walks hand in hand with fear and while the villagers have a strong religious faith it's also one that sees the pestilence as a punishment for their sins. As the fear and grief mount so do the violent reactions and the desperate searching for someone to blame. Murder, witch hunts and grave robbing become commonplace.

For others, like Anna,  the personal crisis will bring forth a compassion , courage and strength of character not before realised.

Excerpt p87.......There is, among these old graves, a great soaring stone cross, carved cunningly in the ancient ways of the people who walked these hills beyond the reach of memory.........................I would lean against the cross, resting my forehead against the rough grit of its wind-pitted surface. Remembered prayer-fragments formed and the dissolved, interrupted by the confusion of my thoughts. Behold the Handmaid of the Lord. Why was I not one of the many in the chamber of Death?

Accompanied by the Rector's gentle and loving wife , Elinor, Anna begins to move into the empty places of the dead. The two women take over the 'witches garden' and learn the ancient methods of healing plants and physicks, they become midwives and nurses and through healing become themselves healed.

Geraldine Brooks has the ability to write about people, places and events in a way that draws you deep into narrative on a very emotional level. Whether she is describing the beauty of the countryside or the ghastly symptoms of bubonic plague she makes you feel and that is what makes a book outstanding to me. The ending is not what one might expect and adds a little surprise twist.

Beautifully written historical fiction............I loved it!

Many of the landmarks of the Eyam Plague have been preserved and you can read more on this website.
The first image I used comes from there and the stone cross picture from Wikipedia

Royal Reviews Historical Fiction Challenge

Historical Tapestry's  The Alphabet in Historical Fiction Challenge

E is for Eyam.


  1. Great review. I read People of the Book and loved it. I have a copy of Year of Wonders on my shelves. I must move it up on the tbr list. Thanks for reviewing it.

  2. I liked this book so much more than I expected to! Glad you loved it : )

  3. Glad you enjoyed the review, Sandra. I will definitely read People of the Book now.

    Mary - i certainly did and probably more than I expected to as well.

  4. I love her book..people of the, now I can't remember, but she is good and would like to read this one too

  5. This is a beautifully written review! I loved this book -- I'm glad you did too.

  6. Thanks Stephanie, glad you enjoyed the review.

    Blodeuedd - I'm sure you'll love it too.

  7. Absolutely loved your review, made me want to grab it off my bookshelf, dust it off and start reading.
    Definitely getting moved up my list :-)

  8. Your review has reminded me that I have this book on my TBR list and why I have it there. I must read this book sooner vs later.

  9. Thank you for posting! I just started March by Brooks and am enjoying her beautiful writing--thanks for another recommendation.

  10. I'm so glad I'm encouraging everyone to move this lovely book up their TBR lists. Enjoy!

  11. Lovely review!

    I do tend to struggle with just one aspect of Brooks' writing and that is the ending. I adored all of this book except for the ending, and I thought the ending of People of the Book was a bit suspect as well.

  12. Excellent review. I found this novel very moving also, it's one that stays with you for a long time afterwards...

  13. Thanks - glad you loved it too. It does stay with you and I think it will be one of my top reads this year.