- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 580 KB
- Print Length: 323 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial (14 July 2011)
- Sold by: Amazon Asia-Pacific Holdings Private Limited
- Language: English
- ASIN: B005DI9SKW
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Customer Reviews: 966 customer ratings
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,16,008 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Year of Wonders Kindle Edition
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Top international reviews
My main problem with the novel was Anna herself. She’s quite literally everywhere, from witnessing the first death, tending to virtually every single one of the sick and dying – including her own children – acting as an impromptu midwife and the most unbelievable role of all, working down a mine! She’s the 17th century equivalent of Wonder Woman and it just doesn’t ring true. Someone in her position – uneducated and from a poor family – would not have been able to do half the things she does without an education, money or social standing to support her, even if she is thought of as inquisitive and ‘unusually intelligent’. Yet despite all of this we’re meant to believe that she learns to read in English AND Latin, picks up the rudimentary elements of midwifery and is able to logically question the progression of the plague from a scientific (for the times) viewpoint. Nope sorry, it just doesn’t fly with this reader.
Then there’s Michael Mompellion – presumably Brooks’ fictionalised version of the real-life William Mompesson – who’s written as nothing more than the characteristic troubled religious man, harbouring a dark secret. The problem is, the real Mompesson was nothing like his fictional character and it’s an insult to his memory for Brooks to portray him in this way. Were it not for Mompesson’s forward-thinking proposition and the devotion of his parishioners, the village of Eyam and many of the surrounding villages would certainly have been decimated by the plague. But Brooks has simplified this character to such a degree that there are no grey areas. He swings from good to bad, zealot to disbeliever, with no layers in-between, making for a wholly unlikeable character who, if he were actually based on the real Mompesson, would have struggled to find anyone devoted enough to listen to him, never mind following his instruction when it came to the quarantine.
I understand it’s fiction and as such, writers can afford to stretch the truth a little even when writing a fiction novel based on fact. But to completely change a person’s character to suit your story, says a lot to me about how invested the author was in portraying this genuinely interesting historical event and the people involved. And in the case of Brooks’ ‘Year of Wonders’ it would appear she wasn’t interested in the slightest, bypassing the facts in favour of her increasingly ridiculous storylines.
Essentially what this turns into is a ludicrous historical romance novel, with the occasional bodice-ripping moment sprinkled in, presumably to help spice things up a bit as there’s certainly no real drama or suspense found elsewhere in the novel. There’s no sense of the desperation the villagers must have felt when faced with the reality of the quarantine and as for the poor people who contract the plague and subsequently die, Brooks reels them off like the credits at the end of a bad film. We never get close enough to them or their stories because it’s ostensibly all about Anna and as a result, it’s difficult to care about any of them or share in their loved ones’ grief when another person passes away. In reality these people’s lives were a living hell, with one resident – Elizabeth Hancock – burying her six children and her husband in the span of eight days, just one of the many heart-breaking examples.
I didn’t reach the end – it all got far too unbelievable and frustrating for me – but reading other reviews online, I understand that the ending is farcical to say the least which doesn’t surprise me given the first 3/4 of the novel. Whilst I’ve no doubt that Brooks is a successful writer – she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel ‘March’ so she must be doing something right – ‘Year of Wonders’ is so full of absurd ideas and downright unbelievable story arcs, it’s almost possible to convince yourself it’s been written by someone else who just happens to have the same name. Mind you, I’ve not read any of Brooks’ other novels, so perhaps they are all like this…?
It is a fascinating tale following Anna Frith, a young woman endeavouring to survive a devastating outbreak of plague in her small village. This is a period of history I am not very familiar with but Geraldine Brooks' detailed research is incredibly enlightening as evidenced in the excellent descriptions of the 17th century methods used to try and curb the outbreak as well as nurse those afflicted.
I really liked the main protagonist Anna. She is a born survivor; both compassionate and resourceful. It was a pleasure to see her character grow in stature as she becomes indispensable to her community.
I was all set to give this 5* but unfortunately I was rather disappointed by the ending. It is difficult to explain without spoiling it but for me it was not in keeping with the rest of the novel and was wrapped up a little too quickly. However I would definitely still recommend it to anyone but especially fans of historical fiction!
Year of Wonders is inspired from the author's visit to the village of Eyam over twenty years ago. Whilst out walking in the English countryside, she came upon a finger post pointing the way to the PLAGUE VILLAGE, and there she found the true story of the Eyam villagers' ordeal, and their extraordinary decision, set out in display in the parish church of Saint Lawrence.
It is 1665 when an itinerant tailor brings the plague from London to the small Derbyshire village of Eyam by means of a flea-infested bolt of cloth. The tailor, who is the first to succumb to the plague, boards with Anna Frith, young widow and narrator of the story.
Anna works as a maid for the rector, Michael Mompellion and his wife, Elinor, who has taught her to read. As the villagers die, one by one, those who remain face a choice: do they flee Eyam in the hope of escaping the plague, or do they stay? The rector suggests the village quarantine itself, so as to protect its neighbours from the plague. Obeying the rector's command, the villagers voluntarily seal themselves off from the rest of the world.
Cocooned from the outside world, the plague deaths mount, and grief and superstition lead to mob violence, accusations of witchcraft and devil worship. Ravaged by the disease, the people of Eyam struggle to retain their humanity in the face of this disaster. Anna Frith is a sympathetic heroine as, with Mompellion and Elinor, she tends the dying and battles to prevent her fellow villagers from descending into drink, violence and superstition. She must also struggle with the intense, inexplicable feelings she develops for both the rector and his wife.
With an observant eye, impeccable period detail and poetic prose, the author skillfully portrays this moment in history; this story of ordinary people struggling to cope with extraordinary circumstances.
Because I found this story so well written, I was just a little disappointed in the ending, which seemed a bit rushed and contrived. However, despite this small reservation, I would highly recommend Year of Wonders as a spellbinding and unforgettable tale of love, loss, and learning, throughout this tragic historical era.
In those turbulent times as a village cut-off from the the outside world with the terrible fears of painful disease & pace of death about to consume them, it is small wonder that the Mompellion figure head was the people's one notable saviour of great wisdom & will to hold village life together. It is this coupled with the great insight given to explain the actions of the vicars wife of her attonement to teach Anna healing & care of plain country peoples that speake eons of human endeavour for survival.
The compassion,reason & sheer determination of Anna Frith is what makes this book an exceptional read. Her intelligent willingness to learn,use& application of herbs as she carried on stotically with the mundane endless daily work & while carrying the burden of personnel grief, inspiring.
Incidently, Mompellion aquistion of books 'The Book of Healing'&'Cannon of Medicine'written by an outstanding persian physician Avicenna (980-1037AD) might be of interest for readers who are familar with alternative herbal medicines. As a child prodigy Avicenna & educated in formal medicine,later set down instructions for hundreds of plants,their uses & credited for methods of distilling essential oils from flowers,the uses of massage, various forms of traction for broken limbs & cleansing diets using fruits.
Into Anna's life comes George Viccars, a tailor looking for a room. A lodger gives her a welcome extra income, and George is a kind man who plays with her sons and brings happiness back into her home. Unfortunately, he brings something else - plague. Anna had thought she found love, but instead finds death, as plague quickly sweeps through the village and her house, taking her sons. Mr Mompellion asks the villagers to have no contact with the outside world, to contain the plague by withdrawing and not going beyond the village boundary. Even as the villagers are being convinced, the Bradfords have sneaked back to the big house and flee. Everyone else is left, while the plague prepares to decimate the village.
This is the story of that year and of the inhabitants of the village during the time of the plague. A time which brings out the best and worst in the inhabitants that live there. The ending is utterly, breathtaking and the shock of it, upon all those Anna has already endured, is brilliantly written. If you haven't read this before, then enjoy. If, like me, you are reading it again, nothing is lost in the re-telling. Fiction at its best and highly recommended.
My only problem was the language of the time which required a dictionary by my side and held up the flow.
Used for book group and produced a lot of discussion which is what it’s all about
Like every other reviewer (and probably reader) I was thrown by the ending. Brooks seems to have fallen for the belief that a 'twist' will improve a novel; 250 pages of thoughtful hyper-realism are followed by 25 pages of breathless melodrama that seem to have come from a different book altogether.
But apart from that, I found this book both fascinating and moving. It has persuaded me that I must visit Eyam and experience the atmosphere for myself - and what novel could do more?
Would definitely try another of hers.
It was okay but not exactly a page turner.