Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book Review: Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders is inspired by a true story of a village called Eyam in England, which experienced an outbreak of the plague in 1666.  Our story focuses on Anna, a housemaid for the village priest, and her experiences with loss, family, and community as the village is cut off from all other society in an effort to contain the plague.

So this is kind of a modern classic, right?  It's a New York Times and Washington Post notable book, it's a best seller, and you'll find it on all kinds of "Best of" and "Required Reading" lists.  I felt obligated to read it and have had it on my list for years.  After reading it, I'm honestly lost as to where to start in reviewing the writing.  I feel like it was almost two separate books.

The first book - made up of the first 250 or so pages - was amazing.  I thought the writing was beautiful, I love the characters, and I was very impressed with the overall quality as well as the author's storytelling capabilities.

And then the last fifty pages happened and it wasn't even in the same world as the first section.  Things just go absolutely nuts in the last fifty pages.  I don't want to spoil, but I could not, even by the largest stretch, suspend my disbelief that far.  It was totally and completely unbelievable, not just based on history and fact (the book is not a fantasy) but also based on everything the author had established about the characters to that point.  You can't write two hundred and fifty pages of character development and then turn around and have the characters act against everything you've already established.  No, just no.

Entertainment Value
Despite my anger at the fact that the last few pages of the book take place in some alternate universe with characters who do not in any way resemble the characters we've established throughout the rest of the novel, I actually was quite entertained by the whole thing.  I mean, I'll always be entertained by crazy stuff happening, but in this case being entertained was not the best thing.  The crazy stuff, while crazily entertaining, had absolutely no place in the book.

The ending ruined it.  I'm not ready to say I don't recommend it, because I feel like the first part of the book is really good.  And it's not a horrible waste of time in the way a more believable but cliched and un-memorable story would be.  This one is certainly memorable and inspired discussion between me and the friends who have read it - so in that way it was a success.  Just don't model your upcoming plague novel on the last fifty pages, ok?

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with this review. I also was like "What the heck just happened?!" with the ending. It seemed so out of left field and unlike the rest of the book.