The year is 1666, and the plague suddenly and unexpectedly infects the tiny village where Anna Frith, a young widow, lives with her two babies. Anna works as a maid for the minister, Michael Mompellion, and his gentle wife, Elinor, who teaches Anna to read. When the plague arrives in the village, Mompellion insists that the villagers close themselves off from the rest of the world so as to avoid spreading the plague. Only the village's noble family leaves; the rest of the community waits to see who the plague will take and who it will leave. The year that follows is one of constant death, horror, chaos, religious fervor, witch-hunting, heartbreak, and survival. In the midst of the horror, Anna turns from an illiterate servant to a skilled healer.
Geraldine Brooks has woven a superb tale in this novel, which is based on the true story of Eyam, a mountain village in England. I've always been fascinated by stories of the bubonic plague, and this one takes the reader right into the midst of it. Brooks' writing style is lyrical and haunting. The characters are richly developed, and the novel is vivid in its description of humanity and our ability to cope. While it's only January, I imagine this novel will make my 2008 Top Ten list.