Thursday, September 25, 2008

Year of Wonders

I'm traveling back in time, to England in 1665, when the dreaded Bubonic plague spread from London to the small villages. I've just started reading Year of Wonders, written by Geraldine Brooks and published in 2001, a first person narrative told through the eyes and heart of a young widow, Anna Frith, who works as a servant for the rector and his wife. When Anna's border, the dashing tailor Mr. Viccars, succumbs to the plague, death has made an appearance in her home, and she fears for the lives of her own two young children. Named after a poem by John Dryden, Year of Wonders has already captured my deep interest in the way that historical fiction always does, transporting me to another era, one which though harsh, bleak, and dark in many ways, is also illuminated by human warmth as if by candlelight, and compels me to keep reading about the villagers who live in the cruel and capricious shadow of the plague. Brooks' descriptions are vivid and evocative, sometimes morbidly fascinating, and she has mastered the phrasings of the seventeenth century as well. Here, she describes Elinor Mompellion, the rector's wife:

"At five and twenty, Elinor Mompellion had the fragile beauty of a child. She was all pale and pearly, her hair a fine, fair nimbus around skin so sheer that you could see the veins pulsing at her temples. Even her eyes were pale, a white-washed blue like a winter sky. When I'd first met her, she reminded me of the blow-ball of a dandelion, so insubstantial that a breath might carry her away. But that was before I knew her. The frail body was paired with a sinewy mind, capable of violent enthusiasms and possessed of a driving energy to make and do. Sometimes, it seemed as if the wrong soul had been placed inside that slight body, for she pushed herself to her limits and beyond, and was often ill as a result. There was something in her that could not, or would not, see the distinctions that the world wished to make between weak and strong, between men and women, laborer and lord."
~Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks

Although the devastation of the plague, a deadly disease transmitted by infected fleas and rodents, was widespread and horrific, it's presence forced many to live more intensely and honestly, including the heroine of this story, Anna Frith, which may be the reason why I'm reading Year of Wonders so avidly.


  1. I'm so glad you write a book blog. I'm always looking for new stories to read. This one sounds captivating. I'll be watching to see how you like it.

  2. It's been fascinating so far. I really enjoy historical fiction.


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