YEAR OF WONDERS by Geraldine Brooks
Also known as 'annus mirabilis', the year 1666 was the subject of a poem with this title by Johm Dyrden about the events of that year in England, namely the Great Fire of London and the Great Plague, plus war with the Dutch. The author also refers to the phrase in her Afterword at the end of her novel, with God telling Moses to 'do my wonders', which included the first plague in recorded history visited upon the Egyptians.
Ms Brooks has based her novel upon the actual events that took place in the village of Eym in Derbyshire which was struck by a plague in 1665-1666. The village chose to quarantine itself from the rest of the local area in the hope the illness might outrun itself and thus restrict its spread.
The narrator of this fictionalised account is 18 year old Anna Frith, recently widowed with two young sons. She takes in a boarder who unwittingly appears to have been the carrier of the illness to the village. The illness is horrible in how it attacks the victims and Ms Brookes' descriptions are not attractive! The disease quickly takes hold in the community of approximately 350 people. The Rector, typically of the times, has a very powerful influence in the community of largely illiterate, superstitious agricultural families. His decision to isolate the village from the community at large comes at a huge cost over the course of a 12 month period.
Fear grips the villagers, with the local medicine woman/midwife and her daughter being early victims of the mob violence and climate of fear. Anna and the rector's wife, Elinor, take it upon themselves to continue to care for the people with herbal remedies and tonics and so on. Little good it does! But it enables Anna, as the narrator, to be out in the community and so able to report on what is happening to the villagers and their daily lives. Not pleasant, and I am so glad I live in the time period I do! Eventually, over the 12 month period the disease does run its course but the population is reduced by two thirds as a result.
Throughout it all Anna just manages to retain her sanity despite enormous personal loss and emerges like a phoenix from the ashes into a strong and extremely capable young woman. Her life subsequent to this story would make a further wonderful novel if ever Ms Brooks decided to write about her again.
If you are looking for a pleasant bed time read, this is not it. The subject matter is harrowing, the style of writing is very correct, formal and beautifully descriptive. Not modern at all. As the novel evolves, Anna begins to question what God is all about, that despite all the worship etc of Him, He still thinks it is ok to deliver this plague. At the core of all this is how human beings behave when their very lives and survival are threatened by something they have no control over.
I can't say I really enjoyed reading this, and I would not put it in my top 10 or 20. But such is its power that it has stayed with me, and I continue to think about it nearly a week after finishing reading it. Ms Brooks is a fabulous writer, I don't know how people can write such amazing things that continue to haunt us and make us think more deeply.
THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE by Stieg Larsson
Google this title and pages and pages of stuff come up. This writer and his books are a phenomenon in the thriller genre. Totally gripping, intricate plot and plot development, very well drawn and unusual characters, and of course plenty of token violence just to keep us breathlessly turning the pages.
Lisbeth Salander returns, naturally, as one of the main protagonists. This time she takes centre place in the story as she attempts to stay one step ahead of being arrested for murder, 3 murders in fact. Assisting her is Mikael Blomkvist, journalist extraordinaire, and a number of characters from the first book who are also convinced of her innocence. Sex trafficking and prostitution of young women is the underlying theme of this book, which runs a parallel with the lack of control Lisbeth had over her early life.
Some reviews say the first book is better, some say this is one better. They are both equally good. I still don't want to see the movie as I don't see how they can cram all the stuff in the book into 2-3 hours. Riveting reading though.