Thursday, April 24, 2008

Year of Wonders is, in a word, Wonderful

I've decided to do an occasional book review about books I really like. I don't know if I'm getting pickier or less patient these days, but I find very few books really tickle my fancy. More often than not, I simply lose my concentration and just give up. Or worse, I end up throwing it across the room or giving it away. If I really hate it, I'll chuck it in the recycling box where at least it'll do some good without inflicting pain on anyone else.

A friend gave me a copy of YEAR OF WONDERS by Geraldine Brooks. Now, I love historical novels as a rule, but I wasn't sure I would be able to get into one subtitled "A Novel of the Plague" however well written it was rumoured to be. Well, I started it early one Saturday morning, and spent the day in my nightgown, unwilling and unable to put the book down long enough to get dressed. That's how good it is. It's not a big book - I finished it that evening - but it is like a Faberge egg, tiny and perfect. It is exquisitely written, and Brooks has a knack for language that draws you into the time and suspends you there.

This is a story of the bubonic plague, and how it affects one small village in Derbyshire in 1666. It's based on the real village of Eyam, Derbyshire. When an itinerant tailor unknowingly brings the plague to the village, the local rector advises all inhabitants to isolate themselves for one year to prevent the spread of the disease. This is the story of that year, told from the perspective of Anna Frith, a young widow and the rector's servant. This is more than a story about the plague. It's about the human condition, where bravery, greed, prejudice, hate, envy, sacrifice, and love all play a part. The only bit I felt was weak was the epilogue, as the tone was inconsistent with the rest of the book, but it's not a big deal as the rest of the book makes up for it.

British historian,GM Trevelyan is quoted on the ROME website and it sums up how I feel:

"The dead were and are not. Their place knows them no more and is ours today...The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once on this earth, once on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing into another, gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone, like ghosts at cockcrow".

And if you haven't watched the series ROME, there's nothing more to say except hie yourself over to Amazon and order the complete series (two seasons) and prepare to stay in the next few weekends. Two words - Titus Pullo.

Next on my reading list: RATS Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan


Lottery Girl said...

Great post.

Your first graf sums up how I feel. Are we getting pickier? Seems to me that in spite of the fact that everyone says it's so much harder to get published, there's more junk out there than ever before.

Okay--I'm sold. I'm going to get this book, in spite of the fact that I have a huge pile TBR.

Thanks for the recommendation!

Trudy said...

I have that book on my TBR! I was cautious about it, since it might be depressing. I just moved it up the list.

Stop crushing on Titus....what will the dentist think?

Merrymags said...

I am a book lover (I quiver when I get new books -- it's almost a sexual thing for me) with nothing more than your typical liberal arts education. I don't have the training to dissect a book/story and discern what makes it good, so-so, or a stinker other than my own common sense and preferences.

I read YEARS OF WONDER about a year ago and was quite moved by it. Have you read MARCH by the author? Excellent, too. I put Brooks in the same category of good reads as SLAMMERKIN (can't recall the author at this moment), ANGELS AND INSECTS and POSSESSION by AS Byatt, and NORTH AND SOUTH by Elizabeth Gaskell. I've just started THE MONSTERS OF TEMPLETON by Lauren Groff.


BB said...

All very interesting and if I ever get time (i.e. give up blogging myself) I shall read this. Otherwise your precis will have to do me! However, I shall NOT be reading ANYTHING about RATS. You must be crazy. Euwwwww!

MM said...

I'm going to have to check out Year of Wonders

Lynne Sears Williams said...

Okay. But I'm still not your friend.Or I've gone blind. Sog, weep, sniff.