The Plague

Year of Wonders
Geraldine Brooks

The year is 1666; a small village tucked in the English countryside welcomes a new lodger–George Viccars, a tailor from London. Viccars luxurious bolts of fine cloth, however, harbor the unseen “seeds” of the Plague. After his death, we watch the lives of the villagers quickly spiral into despair. Anna Frith, the young widow who took the tailor in, works for the rector of the village, Michael Montpellion. With Montpellion and his wife Eleanor, Anna nurses the sick, attends to the survivors, and helps bury the dead.

The title was misleading–I expected to read a novel where the horrific plague brought out the best in people, and bound them together in community and a renewed spirit of brotherhood. Instead, we have witch hunts, swindlers, religious fanatics, and, rather than grave robbers, a grave-digging robber who swoops in hours before a death and charges outrageously for a decent burial. I guess one’s true nature does surface during adversity. But through it all, Anna Frith somehow prevails, and, as she watches the world around her fall apart, tells her story with wisdom and insight. Eleanor Montpellion teaches her to read and becomes a fast friend, and Michael Montpellion relies on her courage and skill in nursing the sick.

Year of Wonders provides a fairly accurate (albeit cliched) look at England in the seventeenth century. My interest never flagged and the novel was a quick read. But I have to wonder why oh why contemporary writers insist on some sensational ending, one that isn’t in tune with the time, place, or character of the novel? Is it because a quiet, thoughtful story of grace and dignity won’t sell? I won’t put a spoiler alert here, but to say the far-fetched end of Anna’s story was disappointing is putting it mildly.

Currently reading : tinkers by Paul Harding; next up The Immortal Life of Harriet Lacks, our July book club selection.

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