In 1665, England had a problem. People were dying of a mysterious disease that no one knew how to stop. It started in London, so of course anyone with the means left the city. By leaving, however, the Londoners took the plague with them to the neighboring villages and towns. One village, Eyam, found the plague to be within its borders, and took the drastic step of quarantining itself. It is in this village that Geraldine Brooks sets her story, Year of Wonders.
In Year of Wonders, Anna is a young widow and mother who takes in a boarder to help her make ends meet. The boarder is a tailor who travels outside of the village on a regular basis. Soon he falls ill and dies, directing Anna to burn all of his unfinished work, for fear that it has been contaminated. After other villagers begin to die, they realize that they have been overtaken by a plague. They make arrangements with a neighboring town to keep them supplied with goods, provided that they do not leave the village and risk infecting others. This quarantine is the idea of the rector, Michael Mompellion. Time passes and more and more villagers die, causing them to question their decision and their leader.
While I was listening to Year of Wonders, I kept wanting to yell to the characters "Now go wash your hands! Right now! With soap!" They didn't listen to me, but in reality, it may not have mattered if they had. The thinking now is that the plague was spread through flea bites.
Although this sounds like a terrible book, in the first chapter Brooks introduces us to characters who lived through the disease, and mentions some who died. It is definitely more a story of survival than a story of tragedy. I have read all of Brooks' novels, and Year of Wonders is probably my second favorite, behind People of the Book. Other Brooks novels that I have reviewed on this blog are March and Caleb's Crossing.
Year of Wonders was a NYT Notable Book for 2001. For the Challenges, this one is a triple countsie - Rewind, Audiobook, and I Love Library Books.
Next Up on CD: Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood
Still Reading (and Loving!): The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal