Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 125 - 13 Reasons to Read Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Deeply-missed book blogger Dewey passed away 10 months ago. For awhile, her blog remained for us to click onto and once again read her insightful reviews of fabulous books.

Recently I've discovered that the link to her blog no longer connects. I guess it's time to let go of some things.

I'm a third of the way through my reading challenge based on books that Dewey reviewed. I recently found a review of another of 'Dewey's books' over at You Can Never Have Too Many Books, along with this wonderful sentiment from Susan:

"That last quote also reminded me of Dewey. It's been almost a year now since she passed away. I'm glad this was a book she loved and recommended. To you, Dewey."

1 - Year of Wonders is the second book I've read for the year-long Dewey Reading Challenge. Good thing for me that there are only six books on this challenge. I noticed that most of the avid readers who signed up for this had read their allotment by March.

The books I read for myself have a habit of getting bumped regularly by new releases which my incredibly-talented friends have written - books I like to review as close to their release date as possible, so I can spread the word. I finished reading Year of Wonders a few weeks ago, but I had three books to review that were hot off the presses first.

2 - Year of Wonders is a Penguin Books release. This debut novel for journalist Brooks became an international bestseller. Not a bad way to switch careers...

3 - The full title is actually Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague. Call me crazy, but that's the thing that grabbed me and made me special order it at the smaller bookstore near my office. I've been able to buy three of the six challenge books off the shelf at the large Chapters, but both of the Geraldine Brooks were special orders because I couldn't wait until I might be able to get to Chapters. I started my challenge with Brooks' March - you can read my review HERE - and I immediately plunged into Year of Wonders.

4 - We meet Anna Frith of Derbyshire, England, daughter of a brutish laborer, young widow of a miner and mother to two young sons. She works as a part-time servant at the manor house and takes in a boarder at her cottage to make ends meet.

5 - Michael Mompellion is the married rector of Anna's village. Young and charismatic, he sweeps his congregation up with the intensity of his gaze and seduces them with the magic of his voice. He rides his powerful stallion Anteros and ministers to his flock with large hands more like a working man's than a cleric's.

6 - The novel jumps back and forth through time. We meet Anna as she keeps house for Mr. Mompellion, in the desperate hush following their year of beating back the plague. Then it flashbacks to the time just preceding the arrival of the decimating disease. Eventually we catch up to the moment of the novel's beginning, where we then move beyond to the conclusion. It's an intriguing way to present the novel, as we assume that how we find the characters at the beginning is the way the novel will end.

But there is more.

7 - Sexual tension flares between Anna and the rector. Although he is passionately married to Elinor Mompellion, the attraction between him and Anna runs throughout all the horror of the plague year. Anna, Elinor and Michael create a love triangle of the most original kind. Anna idolizes Elinor, who teaches her to read and how to use plants to heal. But Anna doesn't realize until much later that part of her kinship with Elinor is her unconscious desire to be Elinor - because Elinor is Michael's wife.

8 - The story is told entirely through Anna's first-person voice. But this is not merely her story. A Novel of the Plague is a perfect indicator of the scope of this tale. We get to know an entire village and suffer along with each individual as the impossible decision is made. By shutting themselves off from the world, they heroically attempt to contain the plague.

9 - Geraldine Brooks' training as a journalist serves the villagers well. Multiple viewpoints and varied reactions to the collective decision are presented through Anna's eyes. Though we know Anna and her stalwart character, we still get vivid depictions of other people who aren't so brave, aren't so sure, who react to the horror in monstrous ways.

There are lots of gruesome images in this book - fair warning to the squeamish. But I found every part of it fascinating, compelling and so very heartrending. There were many times that I had started to read it on the bus, but had to tuck it back into my purse or else sit there crying.

10 - Ms. Brooks really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"When the Mompellions came to where I stood, Elinor Mompellion held out both her hands and took mine tenderly as the rector spoke to me. 'And you, Anna?' he said. The intensity of his gaze was such that I had to look away from him. 'Tell us you will stay with us, for without you, Mrs. Mompellion and I would be ill set. Indeed, I do not know what we would do without you.' There was no turmoil within me, for I had made my decision. Still, I could not command my voice to give him a reply. When I nodded, Elinor Mompellion embraced me and held me to her for a long moment. The rector moved on, whispering quietly to Mary Hadfield, who was weeping and wringing her hands most piteously. By the time he mounted the steps again and faced us, he and Mr. Stanley between them had shored up every doubter. All of us in the church that day gave their oath to God that we would stay, and not flee, whatever might befall us.

All of us, that is, except the Bradfords. They had slipped out of the church unnoticed and were already at the Hall, packing for their flight to Oxford."

11 - The woman's face on the cover of the book couldn't be more perfect. Taken from a painting by Frederic Leighton - Amarilla - this depiction of Anna's endurance through all her suffering is exquisitely perfect.

12 - There are so many vivid images and scenes from this book that will always stay with me. First published eight years ago, I couldn't imagine why it hadn't been optioned to be filmed. Actually, to do it justice, it would have to be a miniseries - hopefully on HBO so the grisly aspects wouldn't be lost.

Now with the H1N1 virus making the rounds, wouldn't this be a perfect production for our times?

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"Mr. Mompellion laid his large hand tenderly upon Jakob Merrill's face. 'Hush now.' His voice was low and even. 'Do not dwell any more on things in the past that you cannot change. When God took your wife to Him, He crowned Maude Merrill with a crown of righteousness. He freed her from all toil and tiredness. God has already made provision for your children. Did he not send young Brand to you, and did you not take him in to your home in his need? Do you not see God's hand at work there?'

Jakob Merrill's hand tightened on the rector's, and his brow unknotted. He asked the rector then to help him make a last will to bind such an arrangement.

It was not for me to be reading Jakob Merrill's private will, and I doubt that Mr. Mompellion would have given it to me if he had known that I could read at all. Indeed, I did not propose to read the words; it was only that my eyes could not prevent me as I blotted the document and set it in the tin box that Merrill had pointed to. I warmed the child some caudle, instructed her how to complete the stew I had begun, and set out with the rector.

Elinor met us, her face creased with concern. Two more bodies awaited their graves. Mr. Mompellion sighed and shrugged off his coat. He did not wait even for some nourishment but went straight to the churchyard.

I let go my pride then, and took my courage into my hands instead. Without telling Elinor what I proposed, I trudged out to my father's croft, hoping that the day was young enough to find him sober still.

I noticed that Steven, their eldest boy, had an angry welt across his cheek, and I did not need to ask how it had come there. I carried some of the herbs we had been preparing and showed Aphra how to make them up into the tonic that Elinor and I had devised.

Speaking with a respectful deference that I did not feel, I explained the plight at the rectory, and, flattering my father about his great strength and fortitude, beseeched his help. As I had expected, he cursed and said he had more than enough work to lay his hand to, and that it would do my 'prating priest' a power of good to get his white hands dirty. So I offered him his choice of my lambs for that Sunday's dinner and another at the new moon. These were generous terms, and though my father cursed and haggled and thumped the table till the platters rattled, he and I eventually came to an agreement. And so I bought Mr. Mompellion a respite from the graveyard. At least, I told myself, my father's clemmed children might get a portion of the meat."

- Geraldine Brooks, 2001

Nikki says :) :) :)

Kandyblossom says I must check the library and see if they have this book.

Life's Journey says Wow it is awesome review. Thanks.


Ire said...

:) :) :) I can't say much!

kandyblossom said...

I must check the library and see if they have this book. Thank you for the wonderful review.

life's journey said...

wow it is awesome review. thanks for sharing...happy TT!

Hootin Anni said...

Well now, I'm not sure on this by 100%, but I think Fredric Leighton is the painter of MY FAVORITE painting....the Accolade? Gonna have to go look it up now.

Would Love to Read this Book!!!

My Thursday is childhood photos...a 'then' and 'now'. Come see! Have a great day.

Calico Crazy said...

I am drowning in possible reads now. Not a bad way to go I guess...

Calico Contemplations

Kristen said...

What a wonderful review. It sounds like a very moving book, the kind that leaves you better for having read it.

Paige Tyler said...

Sounds interesting!



CountryDew said...

One of my favorites!

Kaytee said...

I will definitely check for this book! Thanks!!

soleil said...

what a great and thorough review. i may have to check this out.

Anonymous said...

Good luck with your challenge ~ a touching tribute to your friend.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I read it years ago and loved it. I have March here on the TBR Mountain Range, and my book club read People of the Book. People was good, but nothing like Wonders. Wow.

Louise said...

Simply a wonderful review. And it sounds like a wonderful book, although I do not read that much historical fiction. I have seen this one mentioned around the blogs, and I know that feeling one get when an absolutely fabulous book has been sitting on the shelf maybe for years, and then you read it and its just so great, and you wonder why in the heck you didn't read it before. This one sounds like a book like that, even though you had to get it from a store :-)

Shelley Munro said...

Hmmm, I'm not sure this is a book I would choose, but I do like the painting. :)

M. said...

Sounds like a truly wonderful read! The cover is gorgeous.

I actually find that often, historical books/film have content that is breathtakingly gruesome by today's standards but would have been standard fare at the time. I remember being immensely releived when my kids came home and I had to turn off the move 'Perfume' about twenty minutes in.

Kailana said...

I really liked this book when I read it a year or two ago. Glad you did, too!

Anonymous said...

You always do such thoughtful Thursday 13s!

Thomma Lyn said...

Fabulous review, and I'm adding this one to my wish list! Thanks, Julia. :-D

Just Jennifer said...

Great list :)

Susan said...

I loved this book when I read it, and I bought a copy for my mother soon after. I am due for a reread soon. This was one of the best ones about the plague and the toll it took that I read. Love your review!

And thanks so much for the shout-out, Julia. I didn't expect that!

xoxo said...

I'm currently reading this book. Did you type up those parts? I'm looking for the ebook (for quotes and analysis), any chance you might know where I can find it?