Book Review: A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe I’m not really sure why this book caught my eye at the library, given its somber subject, the horrific plague that struck London in 1665. I was browsing nearby and decided to pull it out and take a look. I think I had 1600s England in mind, having just watched part of The Tudors on New Year’s Day, and wanting to read something from around that time period, so it seemed of interest.

Now, this book is categorized as fiction, but it certainly doesn’t read like a typical novel. It does read like someone’s journal, and does include a mixture of personal experiences, charts of numbers (mostly of how many died when and where), and occasional stories passed on from others. It does get a bit dry in parts, especially with the charts, and it’s also somewhat repetitive, with multiple mentions on certain topics, either to reintroduce them or add further detail.

That said, I thought it was also fascinating, considering this was written by someone who lived in London and actually survived the plague (and went on to write several famous novels as well!). I found some of the theories about how the plague spread really interesting, because some of them weren’t entirely off. Although some physicians thought the disease was passed by smell or breath, others theorized that it must have gotten into people’s blood, due to cases where some people may have passed it on to others, while not appearing sick themselves. They just didn’t understand fully how this worked, but they were right in some ways.

It did take me awhile to read this book, and I admit to skimming a bit at the end, but it was still interesting. Don’t expect it to be a typical work of fiction though, or you’ll be pretty disappointed.

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