Saturday, May 31, 2008

May Book Club Discussion: Year of Wonders

This month for The Inside Cover book club, we read Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. Year of Wonders is a historical novel about a small English town 100 miles outside of London. It's the year 1666, and the town has been struck by plague, brought to them by a London tailor boarding with our narrator, Anna. The village is so remote that when the plague first appears the villagers don't recognize it for what it is. Once they learn the horrors of the disease, the villagers are asked to make a decision whether to flee in order to save themselves, or to stay put in order to keep the disease from spreading any further.

In the end, everyone in the village agrees to stay, aside from the only rich family in town - the only family with the means to run far from the reaches of the disease. As we follow the rest of the town through its year of isolation, we watch Anna, who begins as a lowly maid, transformed into a strong woman who the town begins to depend on for herbal remedies to just about every malady, in addition to becoming the only midwife in town (after an unfortunate incident that leaves the former midwife dead).

When I first saw this book I knew it was going to be an easy read, merely because of its length (only 336 pages!). What I didn't know was how much I'd enjoy reading it. This book packed in a ton of information, along with many vivid scenes. Time and again I found myself being shocked by how much I learned from this book and how many different places/people were described in so few pages. Brooks is an amazing writer for both her economy of words and her ability to tell a story well. Also, she does a wonderful job of using old English without it seeming cumbersome. I have read other historical books and been completely put off by them because it's so difficult for me to figure out what the characters are saying to each other.

I really enjoyed watching Anna grow as a person. One of my favorite parts of the book was when she went to the mine with Elinor (her partner in seeking herbal remedies to the plague) to save Merry from losing her family's mine. I was surprised Brooks made these women so independent in a novel about the 17th century, but in the interviews with her in the back of the book she talks about the necessity of women taking a leading role during that time and the fact that women were starting to gain more freedom during that century in England.

There were some cringe-worthy moments in this book - from the witch hangings to a couple of scenes where women are physically abused - but I think it added to the authenticity of the book. We live in such a sterile world today, it was difficult for me to imagine what it would be like to live in such a dirty place while trying to fight a fatal disease.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I would definitely recommend it (and already have forced it upon a number of friends). The one thing that really disappointed me was the epilogue, although that was pretty much because it went against what I had imagined and what I was expecting to happen. Normally I'd be glad about this because I hate when books are too predictable (and I probably would have said it was predictable if it had ended the way I had expected it to, so I don't know why I'm complaining), but after all the death and destruction in this novel, I guess I kind of wanted a couple of people to end up "happily ever after."

SO what did you think? What was your favorite part of the book? Would you recommend it to others? Were you disappointed in anything?

This book was also reviewed by:
Heather @ A Year of Books
Lisa @ Books on the Brain
Jen @ Devourer of Books

Let me know if you reviewed this book so I can post a link to it. Thanks!


Marg said...

I am like you! I loved the whole early part of the book, and then there is this crazy epilogue that really didn't fit with the rest of the book at all!

Heather Johnson said...

I completely agree with you - and with Marg. Here's a link to my review.

On the whole this was a very interesting book. I, like you, was surprised at the detail and info Brooks packed into such a short, readable book.

Laura said...

Great review! I haven't read this one yet, but it is on my list to read by the end of the year, as well as another Brooks book--March.

LisaMM said...

I loved this book, and your review is great. I was blown away that the minister turned out to be so judgmental and cruel-I couldn't believe the way he had treated his wife-never touching her because of her past indiscretion. I agree with you on the epilogue (although I didn't mention that in my review). I thought it was crazy that she ended up on the other side of the world as part of a harem--that seemed really off in left field to me! Certainly NOT predictable!

LisaMM said...

Jen at Devourer of Books reviewed this too.. here it is:

Becca said...

Lisa: Thanks for the link, I'll add her to the list.

And thanks to everyone else for participating! Comments make my heart smile.

Oh, and watch for next month's book. I'll be announcing it tomorrow.

Beastmomma said...

I am a bit late joining the discussion; I still wanted to particpate, so I came to the party late :) One of the things I appreciated about the book was the way the plague was treated and defined. I also hated the minister and thought that the ending was off base. I wanted to be surprised, but not feel like the ending was a bit of a cop out which I did.

Thanks for hosting Becca and I hope to be more timely with my responses in the future.

Becca said...

Thanks for joining us beastmomma! I didn't dislike the priest, but I guess I didn't see him as a main character. It seemed to be more about the women for most of the book. Did you write a review about this book? I can add you if you did.

Beastmomma said...

I think the story was about the women of the book as well. However, the priest dictated many of the social norms that the women had to follow. Unfortunately I read this book pre-blog, so I do not have a review.