The Plague

Company of LiarsI’ve spotted a new book on the shelf called Company of Liars by Karen Maitland, and its subtitle has me excited . Why? Because it is “a novel of the Plague” and there have been some utterly wonderful books set at this most dark of times.

Year of Wonders: A novel of the plague was Geraldine Brooks’ first novel and she now has a highly acclaimed writing career, winning the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with her novel March. Year of Wonders tells the story of a housemaid named Anna who becomes a healer in her local village when the Plague arrives in 1666. She has to deal with superstition and witch hunting as well as the disease itself. It’s an incredible story, and based on a real village.

There is another strand of Plague novels that combines sci fi with the historical novel. It sounds like a weird combination, but the two I have read were corkers. Perhaps the combination gave the stories more of a real historical context on which to base their flights of fancy.

Eifelheim by Michael Flynn moves between the present and the 14th century:

Over the centuries, one small town in Germany has disappeared and never been resettled. Tom, a contemporary historian, and his theoretical physicist girlfriend, Sharon, become interested. By all logic, the town should have survived. What’s so special about Eifelheim? In the year 1348, Father Dietrich is the village priest of Oberhochwald, later known as Eifelheim, when the Black Death is gathering strength … to his astonishment he becomes the first contact person between humanity and an alien race from a distant star when their interstellar ship crashes in the nearby forest.

Connie Willis’ The Doomsday Book is another sci fi work that jumps to the 14th century. Literally in this case, as time travellers go back in time and end up arriving during the Black Death. Willis deserved received the famed Hugo and Nebula awards for this ingenious story.

Other books to try:

Joy Cowley wins Book of the Year

Snake and Lizard… for Snake and Lizard at the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.

Other winners: