Top positive review
Action Packed! Heart Wrenching!
Reviewed in the United States on July 24, 2020
Emma Donoghue is an extremely talented author, each of her books are unique and each are gems. In her latest “The Pull of the Stars” she takes us the maternity ward of a Dublin hospital at the height of the Spanish Flu pandemic, so…TIMING!
This novel is action-packed! It left me breathless several times. I could see it in my mind as a 4-act play taking place over three days, almost all of it set in a cramped three-bed hospital room that has been annexed to quarantine pregnant woman who also have the flu.
First person narrator, Nurse Julia Power, describes in lurid detail the symptoms and progression of this deadly flu and the medical conditions and practices of 1918. Reader, you will be shocked at some of the Obstetrics “treatments” are herein described! (She had previously had a mild case of the flu herself, so she is now immune.)
I didn’t like Nurse Power at first. She was judgmental about her maternity patients. She was critical of ignorance in the poor Catholic mothers, yet likewise critical of the privileged rich Protestant mothers. I found this cold moral superiority to be off-putting. But then…we meet poor, young, and uneducated, Bridie Sweeny, who shows up to help Nurse Power. Bridie has no experience but she has two BIG things going for her; she’s a quick and willing learner and she’s a kind person.
Into the mix arrives a female doctor (quite rare in 1918). Dr. Lynn (who was a real person) is a general practitioner and so Nurse Power isn’t confident that she can help much on the maternity/fever floor. To complicate matters, Dr. Lynn is wanted by the Dublin police for participating in the 1916 “Rising” against British rule. Nurse Powers is not sympathetic to Dr. Lynn’s politics (Powers’ brother, Tim, was mentally damaged by the war), but she needs Dr. Lynn for her patients.
The four sections of the novel are titled: RED, BROWN, BLUE, BLACK, which stand for the progression of color on the face of patients who are cyanotic – starved for oxygen.
(Warning: Donoghue’s descriptions of both the flu and of difficult childbirth are vivid and detailed. If you are someone who is particularly stressed and fearful of our current coronavirus pandemic, and/or are pregnant, you might want to wait until conditions change to read this novel.)