Good Reading : February 2006
FEBRUARY 2006 ı goodreading 9 reading group In 1665, in the remote English village of Eyam, bubonic plague (The Black Death) has taken the town hostage. Michael Mompellion, the town minister, and the villagers voluntarily quarantine themselves. Believing that the plague is God’s judgment on their sinful world, most of the devoutly Christian villagers look for ways to assuage God’s ire. But after panic sets in the villagers turn on one another, illustrating the best and worst of human nature as they grapple with their grief and fear. It’s up to the story’s heroine, Anna Frith, a young widowed housemaid, to raise the existential questions about the origins of the plague. BILL LUCAS of the Tall Tales Reading Group, Qld, writes: Anna Frith provides lessons of the human spirit relevant to our daily lives as she bat- tles, mentally and physically, against the ravages of plague.They say people are at their best when things are at their worst. Unfortunately, that’s a double-edged sword – often people have to be at their best when other people are at their worst. The book is gruesome in parts – I have little doubt this book will appeal to the army of ladies I know who are angels by day, but crave a good dose of grievous bodily reading on the way home. But it’s no Patricia Cornwell; its insights extend beyond that genre. It made me question how any of us cope in a crisis. How do you think you would cope after a tsunami or a twin towers collapse? How would your faith (or lack thereof) change facing death? The story also peels away the years, giving many insights into life in a coun- try village in England in 1666.The effort required to do simple tasks made me feel, for the first time in a long time, a little less tired after I put the kids to bed. And the villagers had to cope with the plague; I only have to deal with Year 1 readers. I thoroughly recommend Year of Wonders to those who like to be trans- ported through history, and to ponder the big questions of life, death and faith. SUE CARTER of ANZ Litlovers writes: I was surprised to discover that I had read this book four years ago, because parts of it seem as vivid as if I’d read it last year. The imagery is crisp, and the reader can feel the isolation and the fear of the unknown. I wonder if the novel is even more relevant today.The idea of being able to isolate yourself from the ‘plague’ could be seen as very topical. I know I found the characters rich and remember Anna especially. But I did find Mompellion to be a bit too modern, too PC or a New Age type of Christian. One of the strongest messages I got from this novel was that we tend to project motives on other people that may not exist. After reading this I found myself looking for more books by Geraldine Brooks. BARBARA BAKER of the Wattle Book Club, Qld, writes: Year of Wonders both fascinated and disappointed us.We were intrigued by the history and impressed by Brooks’s research.We shuddered at the realisation of how easily the plague could be spread and how ignorant the people were.The superstition had dire consequences for perhaps the one woman who could have helped, but who was branded a witch. We admired the sacrifice the townsfolk made, and mused upon whether any of us would be prepared to do the same. The inner conflict suffered by the minister in particular was poignant.We also enjoyed the seventeenth-century atmosphere that Brooks recreated, although several women in our group felt that the descriptions were not fresh or engaging. However, we all felt let down by the conclusion of the book. It was, in our opinion, farfetched and out of keeping with the characters, with the events that had gone before, and with the overall tenor of the book. LYNNE WROE of the Logan West Library Reading Group, Qld, writes: The story appears to be well researched and the reader is drawn into many aspects of village life.We wanted to know why Anna’s past year was so sorrowful, why the strained relationship with Rector Montpellier, and how Anna felt about losing her family. Illnesses, use of herbal medicines, midwifery, superstitions, agri- culture, animal husbandry, mining and details of the plague itself all made for interesting reading.We were relieved when at last the Plague diminished. But the last few chapters were a real dis- appointment to most of us as the story became more and more unlikely and the conclusion in our opinion was quite unsatisfactory. In our November issue we asked reading groups to send in their thoughts and opinions on Geraldine Brooks’s ﬁrst novel Year of Wonders, which was shortlisted for the International Impac Dublin Award after its publication in 2002. Geraldine Brooks is the Australian author of two non-ﬁction books, Foreign Correspondence and Nine Parts of Desire, and a second acclaimed novel, March. wondering about wonders Share your opinions with othergr reading groups from all over the country by joining ournational reading group discussion. If your group has read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon , send your thoughts and opinions of the book in to us by 24 February and we’ll publish an edited selection of the best in our April issue next year. If you’d like to join our reading groupregis- ter, you can register your group online at www.goodreadingmagazine.com.au Join in our national reading group discussion!
December January 2006