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Presented by State Library Victoria

Year of Wonders

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders is fiction novel that follows the story of Anna Frith, a young widower who lives in the small village of Eyam, England, and the challenges she faces through her life and when the 1666 Plague hits her.

‘A woman from the Plague village! Beware! Beware!’

When I started reading the book I was skeptical and didn’t have particularly high hopes for it, it being a school-assigned book and set in the 1600s. From the first few pages I could already tell that the novel was going to be very real and gritty, not shying away from the disgusting details of the Plague. There was already the strong theme of a male-dominated society and I convinced myself that I wouldn’t like the story due to these values and the way women didn’t seem to stand up to them. Basically I thought it would be a gory, misogynistic book with semi-decent prose.

HOWEVER. The book actually turned out to be surprisingly good with the topics I was worried about. I was expecting a gruesome story focussed more on the political and historical aspects of the 1600s, when in fact it turned out that a main part of Anna’s story was overcoming the misogyny and classism of the time.

Anna was a very interesting character, having come from an abusive childhood and her mother dying at a young age. The story ended up being about her troubled childhood and past, and how it affects her decisions later in life and how she relates to others. It was a beautiful book about this young girl that’s been to hell and back and has the courage to question things she’s been taught to blindly accept, and manages to discover herself in a male-dominated, money-ruled town in the middle of nowhere. Having finished the book, flipping back to the start and seeing how much Anna changes over the course of the novel is really satisfying and makes you proud as a reader.

There was something in her that could not see the distinctions that the world wished to make between weak and strong, between women and men, labourer and lord.’

The discussion of the societal barriers in the seventeenth century was surprisingly well done, too. I would be reading along, watching the terrible decisions being made, and how everything is going to hell, and then Geraldine Brooks would throw in a couple of lines that apply to present society and I would go: WOW. The characters and ideas the author uses belong in the 1600s but the messages she sends through the writing can be used even now, four hundred years later.

The prose was beautiful, too and the way Geraldine Brooks can string together her sentences so they work and flow together was truly impressive. The way she describes light and colour and the familial happenings around her made me feel like I was there, and put me in Anna’s position, experiencing things for the first time and seeing the beauty and horror in things.

‘The memories of happiness are fleeting things, reflections in a stream, glimpsed all broken for a second and then swept away in the current of grief that is our life now.’

That being said, it was not a beautiful book. For people who are put off by blood and gore, abuse and murder, this is NOT the right book for you. As I predicted, Geraldine doesn’t shy away from baring the whole truth of the Plague and the horrors it brought people and created, and at times I had to physically put the book down and stay away for a while. Yet the descriptions and reactions to the Plague were completely believable and were part of what made it such a good book.

‘Here we are, alive, and you and I will have to make of it what we can.’

This novel is real and beautiful and perfect for all you historical fiction lovers out there. If you’re reading it for school, don’t judge it too quickly! It’s an amazing read. Let me know if you’ve read it and what you thought. 🙂

– Mai