A young woman's struggle to save her family and her soul during the most extraordinary year of 1666, when plague suddenly visited a small Derbyshire village and the villagers, inspired by a charismatic preacher, elected to quarantine themselves to limit the contagion.
In 1666, plague scorched London, driving the King and his court to Oxford, and Samuel Pepys to Greenwich, to escape contagion. The north of England remained untouched until, in a small community of leadminers and hill farmers, a bolt of cloth arrived from the capital. The tailor who cut the cloth had no way of knowing that the damp fabric carried with it bubonic infection.
So begins the Year of Wonders, in which a Pennine village of 350 souls confronts a scourge beyond remedy or understanding. Desperate, the villagers turn to sorcery, herb lore, and murderous witch-hunting. Then, led by a young and charismatic preacher, they elect to isolate themselves in a fatal quarantine. The story is told through the eyes of Anna Frith who, at only 18, must contend with the death of her family, the disintegration of her society, and the lure of a dangerous and illicit attraction.
Geraldine Brooks novel explores love and learning, fear and fanaticism, and the struggle of 17th century science and religion to deal with a seemingly diabolical pestilence. Year of Wonders is also an eloquent memorial to the real-life Derbyshire villagers who chose to suffer alone during England's last great plague.
This is a haunting book that comes back to loiter in the mind, as do the questions 'What would I have done? Would I have been so brave?'. Based on the true happenings in the Derbyshire village of Eyam, which in 1666 deliberately closed its boundaries to the rest of the country in the hope of containing the plague within the community, the story is told by Anna, whose husband died in a mine accident, and whose two children succumb to the plague. With neighbours dying all around her Anna becomes a helpmate to the Vicar, Mr Mompellion, the originator of the 'wide green prison' idea, and his fragile wife, Elinor. The two women try to fortify the villagers with herbal potions and give help to those suffering. Suspicion, enmity and accusations of witchcraft are rife as the village folk thrash against their fate in their closed and doomed world. The horrors of tending to the dying and sharing the enormous burden of grief make Anna and Elinor's relationship than normal friendship. But there is more loss for Anna, and when the disease passes over, the village has changed and she has to deal with a new and immediate danger which means she can never feel safe in her home country again. Beautifully written with a real sense for the rhythms of 17th-century speech, the novel evokes great empathy for the characters, and an atmostphere of haunting mystery. Despite all the horrors that occur, the courage displayed by many in the village and the sense of life beginning anew at the end of the book make the title a truly appropriate one. (Kirkus UK)
Number Of Pages: 336
Published: 23rd October 2002
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 19.5 x 13.1 x 2.4
Weight (kg): 0.24