Wow, haven’t posted anything for a while. I guess I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of blogging…
So I just thought I’d post a little short something (short because I have homework to do arrrggghh…) about the most recent book I read, Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks.
Basically, Year of Wonders is the story of the villagers of a small English town in 1666 (666…very foreboding number) as they cope with the horrific effects of the plague. After a tailor from London brings Plague-ridden fabric to the village, the rector, Michael Mompellion convinces his congregation to quarantine themselves in the tiny village to arrest the spread of the devastating disease. The ensuing story, told from the eyes of the Mompellions’s maid, Anna Frith, chronicles the village’s rapid descent into unimaginable hell. Soon, corpses begin to pile up faster than graves can be dug for them, and overwhelming grief and horror result in the death of innocent people. It details, in unrepentantly graphic imagery, just how far people will go when faced with such profound loss, and how the human spirit holds fast even when all hope seems lost.
Last summer I read Brooks’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel March, and I found many common strengths and weaknesses between that book and Year of Wonders. I think that one of the things that makes Brooks such a gifted writer is her ability to utilize just the right details in order to convey an important message or emotion. There are many details in Year of Wonders that I’ll be hard-pressed to forget, most of them involving gruesome plague symptoms and brutal forms of punishment. I’m sure Brooks puts an incredible amount of effort into research, but without a formidable imagination even the most remarkable facts can sound hum-drum and uninteresting. She has the skill to provoke emotion and pace events so that each one registers with emotional immediacy.
On the other hand, I have problems with the endings of both books. I won’t give away too much, but March‘s second half was told from the point of view of a character whose views cast an entirely new light on the events the previous view-point character had presented. Now, this is a valid and clever way to add dimension to a story, but I can tell you that I was so mad when it happened in March that I almost stopped reading. I probably would have had a different reaction to the switch of the new view-point character had irritated me less. Even less successful in my view, was the slap-dash ending of Year of Wonders. Again, Brooks pulled the old switcheroo technique with one of the major characters, someone I, as the reader, had come to respect and care about. The new side of this character’s personality was believable enough, and there had been enough foreshadowing throughout that I knew something would be revealed, but when it finally came it felt so…unnecessary. So added-on-at-the-last-minute-for-effect. I’m sure that this wasn’t the intention, but that’s how it came across for me. And then, to top it off, Brooks had her main character continuing her life in a way that I am sure no one would ever have guessed, ever (and I do not mean that as a compliment.) Maybe I’m completely missing the point, and there’s a lot of important significance to her decision to do this, but I don’t think a plot twist should ever register as so very wrong.
I wish Brooks would just stop writing in the middle of her books, because her endings piss me off so much! She’s a good writer, and I respect what she has to say in her books, but for me a satisfying ending is a crucial component of a truly enjoyable book.
So there you go, my short little Year of Wonders recap. More later!