Reading Buddies Wrap-Up: “Year of Wonders” by Geraldine Brooks

by Erin on June 29, 2012

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Welcome, Reading Buddies! Just a reminder that next month, for our last RB read (at least for now), we’ll be tackling Possession by A.S. Byatt. Hope you can join in for a last hurrah!

As always, spoilers are fair game here. I’ll get into some major ones later on, but I’ll warn again before those pop up.

Okay, so Year of Wonders. This was my first exposure to Geraldine Brooks, aside from the first disc of People of the Book on audio. (I stopped because the narrator didn’t work for me.) I am feeling simultaneously impressed by some things and unimpressed by others.

We’ll start with the impressive. I think Brooks mostly did a nice job developing Anna, the narrator. As I mentioned in my discussion post, I didn’t 100% buy Anna’s narrative voice, and that never changed. But I thought she had decent depth as a character. I also really liked how Brooks took an actual historical village that did what Anna’s village did — cut themselves off from the outside world to prevent the Plague from spreading — and wrote a story around it. I usually enjoy when authors root their fiction strongly in historical events. And third, I do think Brooks explored very intriguingly what might happen to an isolated village struck by something like the Plague. She traced the unraveling of almost every facet of life, exploring the medicine and religion of the time along the way.

I know spoilers are fair game in these Reading Buddies posts, but these ones are major, so I’ll mark them.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (cover)SPOILER ALERT!

I did not, however, feel that any character but Anna was particularly well developed. Most seemed like stock characters with predictable (if any) twists. I knew who the “ghost of Anys” was from the first charm. Elinor, the good and saintly wife, had a sordid past I didn’t find particularly surprising. We knew from the start that she would die before the year was out, but I suspected it would not be from the Plague — that would have been too straightforward. And yeah, Michael took a bit of an odd turn at the end — he was probably the least predictable character for me — but I didn’t believe much of what happened with him after he kissed Anna for the first time. It all just seemed…weird.

So yes, the ending. What? Everything from that kiss scene on just seemed ridiculous to me. After 250 pages of horrible but practical and realistic things happening, Anna sleeps with the husband of her dear recently deceased friend, discovers he’s nuts,delivers a baby for a woman she despises while hiding from said friend’s husband, saves said baby from drowning, offers to run away with said baby forever, avoids a pursuer, sails to a foreign country, and…joins a harem? Of a doctor, who lets her practice medicine? Huh?

You know what it reminded me of? Ann Patchett’s novels. Every one of hers I’ve read except for The Magician’s Apprentice managed to completely sever my connection with the characters in the final pages of the book by turning to some ridiculous stunt ending like Anna’s. I’d rather have seen the rector starting to come around, the people of the village beginning to rebuild their lives, and just left it at that.

Aaaaaand I’m done ranting.

So, I’m glad I finally read Geraldine Brooks. I can’t say I’m itching to pick up another of hers right away, but I’d give her another chance.

How about you? What were your thoughts on Year of Wonders? Did the ending bother you as much as it bugged me?

Care to share?

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4 comments
zibilee
zibilee

I also loved this book, but was confused by the ending. If you want to read a really good plague book (which is a sub-genre that I love) read Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis. Very realistic, also has a great ending. Very nice job with this wrap-up, Erin. I enjoyed it!

Stephanie
Stephanie

I liked this book well enough but none of Brooks's other books have really piqued my interest.

softdrink
softdrink

I had the same reaction to the end. Loved the book, but that ending...WTF?!?

Erin
Erin

I've actually had Connie Willis on my TBR list for quite some time. I'll keep Doomsday Book in mind -- I did enjoy the Plague theme, actually! Thanks :-)