Year of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks

I saw a review of this book in Writing Magazine and instantly I wanted to read it. It would have been irrelevant what the review actually said (although it was positive) because a) I don’t tend to take much notice of reviews as I like to form my own opinions and b) the subject matter interested me. Year of Wonders is set in Eyam (pronounced Eem) in the Peak District, Derbyshire. Being a Derbyshire lass myself, the tale of this village was taught to me at a very early age at school, and has been a source of perhaps morbid fascination ever since. If you have no idea what I’m talking about then I’ll give a brief breakdown.

Eyam is a relatively famous village (dependent on where you’re from, presumably the further away you live, the less likely you are to know about it) because of extraordinary events in 1666. A quiet village high up in the beautiful Peak District, nobody ever expected the disease of filthy towns and cities to reach there. However, the Great Plague (also known as the Black Death, or more simply, the Plague) did reach Eyam, and although it was never confirmed, it was suspected that it was brought in on some cloth sent to a tailor in the village from London. Once the villagers realised what the affliction was, rather than running away and risking passing infection onto others, they decided to quarantine themselves until the disease died out. As their numbers rapidly dwindled, they would get supplies from surrounding villages by leaving lists of their requirements and payment at what they called the “Boundary Stone.” Only when the Eyam villagers had moved to a safe distance would a messenger come to collect the money and lists. They would return at set times to deliver their supplies, and this way, the Plague did not spread to surrounding areas and kill even more people. It died out in Eyam where the people had made a huge and very brave sacrifice.

Year of Wonders is a novel based on these facts and follows the story of young Anna Frith, whose life was thrown into turmoil by the Plague. As a servant of the Rector and his wife, she saw first-hand people in the midst of the Plague fever, and saw them die in most undignified ways and horrific pain. Unselfish to the end, Anna does all she can to help the village through its darkest months, all the while she has to cope with her own personal tragedies – seeing both her young sons die before her eyes. I think my previous knowledge made the book all the more enjoyable, as I already knew about the true events which inspired Brooks to write it. However, even if you have never heard this tragic tale of bravery and sacrifice before, it is a truly remarkable book and it had me hooked right from the first page. A unique and captivating read.

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