The Great Plague – Evelyn Lord

Foreword: So clearly my absence from posting has been the entire fault of Game of Thrones.

You see, every week I am lucky enough to have a group of friends that watches GOT together. We all assemble at my friend’s house, gorge ourselves on home cooked food and watch GOT on the large projector in the theater room of the apartment complex.

It’s a safe area and it is next to an extremely busy road.

So I thought to myself, how about I just bring upstairs my phone and debit card and I’ll leave my big, clunky bag in my car. What’s the worst that could happen?

Well… you can imagine my surprise when I approached my car two hours later and found a mess of glass surrounding the side window and, predictably, my bag missing.

So commenced a saga that involved forensics, many calls and way too many wasted hours of my life that I am never going to get back.

The good news is that they found my bag dumped in a park. So I emerged from this disaster pretty unscathed.

But the thing that most angered me was not the violation to my person space, the damage to my car, the lost hours of productivity, the stolen items or the loss of precious keepsakes but the fact that the bastard took my library book.

And it had been taken just as I was getting into it. Believe me, getting the library to not apply fees to my account for the missing book is not an easy process. I’d have to get a statutory declaration witnessed by a Justice of the Peace which seems absurdly complex for a book. In the end, that didn’t matter because the book was found… but those couple of days without it were awful.

Anyways, that has just been a very minor episode in the past couple of months but it was enough to make me feel rather overwhelmed. It’s a bit stressful to have people pushing for results at work and then to have something in your personal life erupt.

Rating: 3/10

Review: 

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I wish I could express my disappointment to the extent that I actually feel it.

I want to state for the record that the first half of this book was actually pretty good. It was riveting enough to genuinely make me upset when I realized that the book had been stolen. At this initial stage, Lord had only just set the scene and introduced me to what the plague would truly be like. There was still half the book to go and my mind had already conjured up ideas of what mysteries awaited me to discover.

Unfortunately, the second half of this book fell very flat.

The Great Plague by Evelyn Lord focuses in on Cambridge in 1665, when the plague was at it’s peak. London, just a hop and a skip away, was sending the town troubling news about outbreaks of horrible sicknesses and mass deaths. Cambridge was the first stop for many exiting Londoners, who fled the cramped and deathly conditions of the city for the open and fresh air of the country. The people of this time were unprepared for the tragedy that would follow as every person in some way had exposure to the effects of the plague. For some, it was the death of a close family member or a child. For others, it was the realization that their own death was soon approaching and that the boils within their groin and armpits would be their downfall. As Lord sympathetically recounts, the locales did their best with the knowledge that they had. They isolated those that got sick and recorded the deaths to the best of their abilities. And they waited, hoping that whatever had caused the plague would disappear as quickly as it had arrived.

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After this scene had been set, I was fully ready to immerse myself in the stories of the local’s. I wanted to know, from a practical point-of-view, what it really would have been like to be among such an apocalyptic event. Unfortunately, this was were Lord fell down.

Throughout the entire book, Lord methodically lists the deaths within each part of the town. At the start, this is fine. It introduces a context to the environment that is important to grasp. But by the middle of the novel, it becomes tedious. By the end, it simply becomes boring. Numbers mean very little without genuine stories to grasp onto. I don’t particularly care that little John died at age eight. It is sad but that means nothing to me. What is important is who John was and what he left behind. As with the holocaust, at a certain point, you can’t feel a connection with a number. You need to know the person to truly understand their pain, suffering and joys.

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Every time that Lord did focus in on an individual story, the book instantly became more enjoyable. This would end in yet more disappointment as the novel took yet another tedious turn and the numbers and dates continued to appear. By the end of the novel, I had glazed over so many sections that I wasn’t even sure of what year the book was discussing. Nor could I actually grasp the amount of people who had died. It just felt like I had been given information overload.

I believe that Lord does have a talent for writing but she needs to remember that she is not writing for academics. She is writing for the average-joe who sees a book with skeletons on it and knee jerk picks it up. For some reason, the plague is a section of history that has very little coverage within the general reading public and perhaps it is because books such as this make it, somehow, such a bore.

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One thought on “The Great Plague – Evelyn Lord

  1. Wow, that was quite the plot twist – so sorry to hear about the theft!

    Just wanted to say that I appreciate this review. I’ve been toying (gingerly) with the idea of reading this, but your review has helped me finally make up my mind 🙂 thanks.

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