Author: Geraldine Brooks
Title: Year of Wonders
Description: In the 1600’s in a small village in rural England, an itinerant tailor sickens and dies. Although he had told his landlady to burn everything, those who had bespoken clothing demanded it, finished or not, and the plague started. Narrated by the tailor’s landlady, who also kept house for the local minister, Year of Wonders, based on a true story, tells how this village determined to isolate itself in order to avoid spreading the plague, and eventually lost two-thirds of its residents. The ill-educated townspeople tried everything they could think of to ward off the plague, after prayer seemed to have failed them, so the village dealt with accusations of witchcraft and religious fanaticism, as well as with those who would take advantage of others’ plight.
Plot: In a note at the end of the book, the author explains how she came across the story and which portions of it she fictionalized. Brooks deals deftly with a plot in which two-thirds of the main characters die.
Characters: Anna, the narrator, is all you could ask for in a protagonist. Though she was raised poor, she learned to read and write, and used the events she had to deal with to grow and even to gain knowledge. Her metamorphosis from uneducated peasant to woman of wisdom is skillfully portrayed. The secondary characters are also beautifully drawn, especially the Rev. Mompellion and his wife Elinor, Anna’s best friend, and Anna’s wretched father and step-mother.
Writing style: Brooks manages to write this story of death without being maudlin. The style is spare—the book is quite short—but eloquent.
Audience: This is literary fiction which would also be enjoyed by those who are interested in history or women’s studies.
Wrap-up: I really liked this book, which amazed me, since it is about the plague. The key, I think, is in Brooks’ choice of narrator; Anna is engaging and the reader cannot help but cheer for her as she bravely faces one disaster after another. One of my Top 11 for 2011! 5/5*