In an earlier blog I wrote about my nearly 10-year membership in a north Orange County book club. In it I lamented the lackluster literary landscape of male characters. I wrote, “Sadly, there are too few Atticus Finches in the world, and in literature.” Conversely, the literary world has amassed a multitude of heroines.
In September our group picked our eleven novels* for our tenth year. Since the October book was taking longer than usual to arrive via Amazon, I began to read Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks since we already owned it.
This is not a review of the book, though I will say that if the rest of the books on this year’s list are as well written and engrossing as this one, it will be our best year. Year of Wonders is a fictionalized recount of an actual event that occurred in central England in the 17th Century—a virulent plague—albeit isolated to one small village (Eyam) of less than 1,000 residents.
But (and isn’t there always one), the author dashed my hopes near the climax. Not with the lead female character (and narrator), but with the main male character. Rector Michael Mompellion emerges as a towering figure throughout the ordeal. Ninety percent though the book I am feeling that finally we have another authentic male hero (not of the ilk of Clancy, Grisham or Ludlum imagined swashbucklers) I can add to my woefully short list that begins with Atticus Finch.
She knocked that wish down and stomped on it. Damn her.
In her afterword the author wrote, “Where I have invented, I have altered or created names to indicate this. Thus, Michael Mompellion reflects the true rector of Eyam, the heroic and saintly William Monpesson, only in the admirable aspects of his character and deeds. The darker side I have given his fictional counterpart is entirely imagined.”
The narrator, Anna Frith, easily makes the top-40 list of literary heroines, with a bullet.
Not surprisingly, the creator of Atticus Finch is a woman, Harper Lee. Is it not possible for a male author to create an admirable, textured (though not flawless) male hero?
* Our books for this year:
Regeneration Pat Barker
My Jim Nancy Rawles
Huckleberry Finn* Mark Twain
White Tiger Aravind Adigo
Faust, Part One J.W. Goethe
Midnight Children Salman Rushdie
Cold Comfort Farm Stella Gibbons
Requiem for a Lost Empire Andrei Makine
The Bridegroom (Short Stories) Ha Jim
Now in November Josephine Johnson
Year of Wonders Geraldine Brooks
Water for Elephants Sara Gruen
* Extra credit for combining Huckleberry Finn with My Jim, earning an extra portion of dessert.