How a novel can be gut-wrenching and called Year of Wonders at the same time and somehow have that make sense is truly remarkable.
The tag line of Geraldine Brooks’ novel is A Novel of the Plague: so I wasn’t expecting it to be a barrel of laughs. The story is set in 1665 in the small village of Eyam, Derbyshire in England while it is hit with the plague for the better part of a year. Voluntarily quarantining itself at the advice of the kind, but occasionally misguided, rector, Michael Pompellion, the novel tells the story of two women, Anna Frith and the rector’s wife, Elinor, as the three of them take care of the villagers both physically and spiritually.
While Anna’s faith waivers, she increases her own determination and willingness to research (along with Elinor) various herbs and medical practices that could help the plague victims and prevent it’s spread.
I think the brilliance of the novel comes in allowing the reader to take this journey with these characters and become just as weary, frustrated, confused and determined as they are. I think the word “wonder” in the title might actually mean “to question” as opposed to something inspiring awe. All the people affected by the plague ask age-old questions: How can God do this? Does God even exist?
The closest Brooks gets to giving an answer comes at the end when the plague is finally gone and Anna describes her faith:
…that flimsy, tattered thing that is the remnant of my own belief. I see it like the faded threads of a banner on a battlement, shot-shredded, and if it once bore a device, none could now say what it might have been…I cannot say that I have faith anymore. Hope, perhaps…it will do, for now.