Whoever recommended Geraldine Brooks to me: Thank you! Year of Wonders was an amazing novel. I loved it.
Loosely based on the history of the village of Eyam in Derbyshire and set in 1665-66, the year plague hit that village, Brooks does a masterful job of bringing the characters and relationships in this time and place to life. The story is told from the point of view of Anna, a young widow who is a part-time servant at the rectory. We experience how the inhabitants of this village lived through a very trying time, imposing a quarantine on themselves to contain this horrible disease. The complexities of religious differences, class, gender, and education are all subtly conveyed in a gripping story. Brooks has mastered the language of this time and place, drawing you into life in the village.
I’ve already said that I seem to enjoy novels with rich characterization and this is another. Several of the characters are deeply and subtly drawn. And known facts of that period, such as the ways some individuals would blame witchcraft and scapegoat particular women in an attempt to eradicate the disease, are well described to give a sense of how people can be caught up in mob violence in stressful circumstances and yet others do not get drawn in. The main character is sympathetic and easy to identify with, at least for me.
The author’s note at the end of the book teases out the relationship to the historical facts in more detail. This is a fascinating addition to a book that stands on its own as just a good story. The insight into the author’s inspiration and process are very interesting.