Because most of us have read other books by Geraldine Brooks, we referenced them in our discussion. Joanne had just finished reading Caleb's Crossing which takes place in America in the same year. Carolyn read it last month and said she found them to be very similar and she didn't enjoy this book as much because of it. The themes were close, downtroden woman triumphs against tribulations.
Joanne said she didn't want to be critical, but that the last four months, our books have been death and Kathy just nodded and said, I know. We all know! Year of Wonders had a strong feminist undercurrent but then we recalled that is was also present in People of the Book. Joanne said it was true of Caleb's Crossing.
We were all critical of the ending. It felt it was a little too hastily tied up and we weren't sure how probable that would have been in 1666. It was pointed out that she would have had to leave anyway, since the stable boy had witnessed Michael and Anna in the barn. Brooks has studied the Middle East and we questioned if it were more a reflection of the author than the thread of the story. I didn't realize it until Kathy was talking about the segment that Michael had fathered a child by Anna, and he would never know it.
We talked about the Bradfords' abandonment of their loyal staff, essentially consigning them to death. Anna had said, "And so, as generally happens, those who have most give least." We talked in general of how servants were viewed in that era and society - no more than animals. Mary said she didn't know if the book was historically correct, but she felt it was certainly humanly correct.
I think it was Connie who asked how we felt about them going down into the mine. We all felt the same - we didn't like it. I've wondered now as I'm thinking through the discussion if Brooks inserted that to show us how the miners had to extract the lead, because after all, that was what fueled the economy of the town.
Carolyn's college roommate Carol read the book and joined up for the discussion today. She asked why why other neighboring villages weren't stricken by the plague. We were guessing that's because was because nothing left the village and so the fleas didn't either, but we just didn't know. She stumped us. Kathy said she had no idea that the disease formed the rosy rings followed by the giant pustules. What a ghastly death - it was new to me too.
What did we think about the title I asked. We knew it came from the Dryden poem in the preface, but other than Anna's mention of it once, I didn't find it referenced again in the story. We ended up saying we wondered about the title.
This is the second month in a row we've had a destructive and violent father central to the story, and this one was even more demonic than the last. He destroyed everyone around him, his wives and his children. Anna's stepmother was driven to insanity and the irony is that she killed the woman who became a mother figure to Anna, who had had no mother.
The discussion was brief, in part because I needed to leave early and also, we wanted to talk about the list and book suggestions before next month and our final selections for 2012.