When London was stricken by the bubonic plague in the years 1665-1666, the houses
of plague victims were sealed and guarded, locking in the well with the ill, allowing
no access to food, water or human comfort. Samuel Pepys observed in his journal
the terrible treatment meted out to plague victims by the terrified Londoners:
"makin us cruel as dogs one to another." It was quite extraordinary
then that the small village of Eyam, Derbyshire, encouraged by the young Rector
William Mompesson, voluntarily quarantined themselves in their own "wide
green prison." Eyam is now famously known as Plague Village.
Brooks, a former war correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, New
York Times, and Washington Post, and bestselling author of the nonfiction
of Desire, visited Eyam in the 1990s and the tale of the village's self
sacrifice took root in her imagination. Inspired by the story, Brooks has crafted
the riveting novel Year of Wonders set in 1666. The narrator is 18-year-old
Anna Frith, a widow who works for the local minister's wife and whose boarder
is a tailor. A flea-infested bolt of cloth arrives from London for the tailor
and from there the scourge is manifested. As the plague begins to wreak havoc
the minister persuades his flock to stay in the village and seal themselves
off to avoid spreading the infection to the surrounding areas. He arranges for
food and supplies to be delivered to the outskirts of the hamlet. The village
is plunged into mayhem, and as the number of the dead mount, grief and superstition
evoke extreme reactions varying from despair and drunkenness to grave-robbing,
witchcraft, and murder. Brooks expertly entwines historical ritual and superstition
with a compelling and emotional tale of everyday men and women struggling with
extraordinary circumstances. Georgie, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
A new voice in historical fiction rescues a woman wronged by her time and forgotten by history, whose love affair leads to her trial for murder.
It is 1649. King Charles has been beheaded for treason. Amid civil war, Cromwell’s army is running the country. The Levellers, a small faction of agitators, are calling for rights to the people. And a new law targeting unwed mothers andlewd womenpresumes anyone who conceals the death of her illegitimate child is guilty of murder.
Rachel Lockyer, unmarried glove maker, and Leveller William Walwyn are locked in a secret affair. But when a child is found buried in the woods, Rachel is arrested.
So comes an investigation, public trial, and unforgettable characters: gouty investigator Thomas Bartwain, fiery Elizabeth Lillburne and her revolution-chasing husband, Huguenot glover Mary Du Gard, and others. Spinning within are Rachel and William, their remarkable love story, and the miracles that come to even the commonest lives.
For fans ofFingersmithandThe Dress Lodger,Accidents of Providenceis absorbing historical fiction and Rachel Lockyer is a character history will never again forget.
"With an intensely observant eye, a rigorous regard for period detail, and assured, elegant prose, Brooks recreates a year in the life of a remote British village decimated by the bubonic plague....Brooks keeps readers glued through starkly dramatic episodes and a haunting story of flawed, despairing human beings. This poignant and powerful account carries the pulsing beat of a sensitive imagination and the challenge of moral complexity." Publishers Weekly
"Geraldine Brooks's Year of Wonders is a wonder indeed: a marriage of language and story unlike anything I have ever read. The novel gives the reader a remarkable glimpse into a 17th century horror, but does so with both compassion and exuberance. Read it for the inventiveness of the language alone a genuine treat." Anita Shreve, author of The Pilot's Wife and The Last Time They Met
"Geraldine Brooks's impressive first novel goes well beyond chronicling the devastation of a plague-ridden village. It leaves us with the memory of vivid characters struggling in timeless human ways with the hardships confronting them and the memory, too, of an elegant and engaging story." Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha
"I honestly cannot recall the last time I read a novel as riveting, haunting, and authentically rendered as Year of Wonders. This book is astonishing, a small wonder itself." Chris Bohjalian, author of Midwives and Trans-Sister Radio
"Witch-like, Geraldine Brooks transports the reader to a small English village of the 1660s where over half the population is succumbing to the plague. As alive as a Breugel painting, Year of Wonders offers the vitality and variety of lives strangely like our own precious and passionate. An unforgettable read, this splendid novel enriches our human memory of both despair and courage." Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab's Wife; or, the Star-Gazer
"The novel is filled with moments of compassion and sadness, as when Anna comes to terms with the lingering presence of the dead....Yet with the same steady hand Brooks uses to paint the beauty of the English countryside, she details the gruesome minutiae of the disease. No sooner do her descriptions of a mother's love for her child or a housewife's simple, daily chores lull and mesmerize, than Brooks pans the landscape, bestowing the same respectful observation on a putrid plague boil." Suzy Hansen, Salon
(read the entire Salon review
This gripping historical novel is based on the true story of Eyam, the "Plague Village," in the rugged mountain spine of England. In 1666, a tainted bolt of cloth from London carries bubonic infection to this isolated settlement of shepherds and lead miners. A visionary young preacher convinces the villagers to seal themselves off in a deadly quarantine to prevent the spread of disease. The story is told through the eyes of eighteen-year-old Anna Frith, the vicar's maid, as she confronts the loss of her family, the disintegration of her community, and the lure of a dangerous and illicit love. As the death toll rises and people turn from prayers and herbal cures to sorcery and murderous witch-hunting, Anna emerges as an unlikely and courageous heroine in the village's desperate fight to save itself.
Exploring love and learning, fear and fanaticism, and the struggle of science and religion to interpret the world at the cusp of the modern era, Year of Wonders is at once a story of unconventional love and a richly detailed evocation of a riveting moment in history. Like Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha and A. S. Byatt's Posession, Year of Wonders blends learning and romance into an unforgettable read.
About the Author
Geraldine Brooks is the author of two acclaimed works of nonfiction, Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence. A former war correspondent, her writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.