Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Take Tuesday: Year of Wonders

Year of Wonders
Some books are just so good, you have to read them again. And some books deserve a second chance. And some books I think about and change my opinion or have more to say. Take Tuesday is a chance to do just that. 

Title: Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Publication Date: 2001
Pages: 308
Previous Readings: April 2014
Date Completed This Time: 3/5/17

Summary: Anna, a young widow and mother in 17th century Britain, watches her village descent into the physical darkness of the Plague and the emotional and spiritual darkness of fear. 

What I Thought Before: I had to read this book for a grad school class several years back. It was one of the first books I had to read for my MLA program and I really loved it then. It was my first experience with Geraldine Brooks' writing; I fell in love with her voice and style. At the time, my only complaint was the ending of the book, which felt out of step with the preceding story.

What I Think Now: In the intervening years, I have recommend this book to a lot of people, including my book club. In fact, that's why I'm rereading it now. We selected this book for our March read and I am leading the discussion on it tonight! I was a little nervous coming back to this book, after it was selected. I worried I would not enjoy it as much this time around and that people would not like it. We'll see what the others thought tonight, but I found myself, once again, thoroughly enchanted by Anna and her crumbling world.

Brooks' writing, of which I have read much more since this first exposure, is at its peak here. This is definitely my favorite book of hers. I know that March won a Pulitzer, but I think Year of Wonders is better. It wrestles with the relationship between faith and science, as well as the ambiguity of goodness - both of which I discussed in my first review of this book.

I think I enjoyed the story and characters even more during this reading. I had forgotten a lot of the plot details. One of the big twists at the end caught me off guard again, which shows how long it has been since I read the book.

The ending, about which my classmates and I bemoaned years ago, was more palatable to me now. I was better prepared for it, certainly, but I also was able to see the signs of it coming along the way. I had forgotten enough to make it fresh, but remembered enough to see the foreshadowing better in this reading. Brooks drops several clues about (SPOILER) Mompellion's true nature, but none were more transparent to me than when he and Anna come across two young, unmarried lovers. Mompellion sends off the man, but is prepared to punish the young girl harshly. I was really struck here by his characters sexism and how centuries of culture have solely blamed young, drunk girls for the act of two. It doesn't excuse the action, but it certainly reminded me early on that Mompellion had some serious thoughts about who was to blame and who should be punished for sexual immorality. He clearly does not see it as a problem in himself, despite his entanglements with Anna at the end of the book.

I am really anxious to discuss this at book club tonight. It's a really wonderful book and, for me, has even improved with a second reading. I feel confident after this to cite this novel as one of my favorites. It's deep and rich and complex while still being engaging. Few books strike that balance so well.

Quotes I Loved: 

  • "For sin, too, must always start with but a single misstep, and suddenly we are hurtling toward some uncertain stopping point. All that is sure in the descent is that we will arrive sullied and bruised and unable to regain our former place without hard effort."
  • "I understood that where Michael Mompellion had been broken by our shared ordeal, in equal measure I had been tempered and made strong." 
Rating: ★★★★★
Will I Re-Read: Yes. I think I will
Other Books By Geraldine Brooks: People of the Book / March / The Secret Chord

A Reduced Review: Rereading this novel about the Plague just confirmed for me that it is one of my favorite books.

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