Reviewed by me for Reader’s Favorite.
This is the first book of Debora Swift that I have come across and, trust me, it is not going to be the last. A Plague on Mr Pepys is a book that is set in the 17th century London, a time when plague and war were robbing peace and money from people. However, the world of Bess Bagwell is unaffected by these tragedies. The only thing that concerns her is ridding herself of the poverty that she had known way too well in the past. She has high hopes for her husband, Will Bagwell. He is an excellent carpenter and she knows that if more affluent people could see his work, he would be earning according to his true potential. She is a headstrong woman whose voice could not be ignored. Therefore, when she insisted that they must move to a bigger house, Will could not deny her wishes in spite of his unwillingness to take a loan. Bess was on cloud 9 as she thought this move guaranteed their good fortune. However, Will’s cousin Jack Sutherland kept borrowing money from them — the money that they themselves were having a hard time earning. When things did not materialize as per Bess’ liking, she thought it best to meddle a bit to turn things around. This meddling went out of hands when Mr. Pepys noticed the beautiful Bess and suggested an arrangement, which was way too inappropriate for a lady, in exchange for offering Will a job. As much as she despised his offer, can beggars be choosers?
If your past was filled with haunting memories of poverty and only now you have tasted a little bit of luxury, can you bear the thought of going back to that life? When you are desperate to move up in the society but money is always tight, can you be bothered by the moral compass? Bess is determined to improve her living conditions and when she notices that her husband is not pushing hard enough, she has no choice but to poke her nose where it does not belong. Even at the time when women were not supposed to interfere in men’s business and were to just follow their husband’s wishes, Bess openly expresses herself no matter who her audience is. There is a fire inside of her that both impresses and challenges Will, Jack, and Mr. Pepys. There is an age long debate of right vs wrong but while reading A Plague on Mr Pepys the lines that seemed so clear in my head blurred. According to the social rules, there was something very wrong with the proposition of Mr. Pepys, yet when Bess considered his offer, I could not put her at flaw. Did she have any other choices? Similarly, although Will is a good guy, his impractical decisions made me want to shake him into senses.
Other than the moral dilemma of the characters, one thing that would remain with me for a long time is the naked presentation of the effects of plague on people. On one hand, the suffering of people was breaking everyone’s hearts, on the other hand, there were a set of people who were making money of their miseries. By selling false potions and such, these heartless people were putting humanity to shame. Deborah Swift has picked up a part of Mr. Pepys’ diary, mixed it with her creative imagination, brought the characters to life, and wrote a masterpiece. This is a book that would force you to ponder about many aspects of the 17th century. It is a bit dark since several serious issues are put forth throughout the read; however, the execution is so perfect that I could not dare put it down before knowing if everything ended well for Bess and Will. I would recommend this book to the readers who like knowing certain facts about history presented in an amusing plot.