The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue | Book Review

Thank you for the ALC!

I’m lost for words as I try to open my review with a somber analogy as to how relatable Emma Donoghue’s latest book is. But saying that would be false, because despite this historical fiction novel being set in a time of pandemic (the 1918 Influenza) in war-ravaged Ireland, their times, given the medical facilities available, were a far cry from what we have in this time of COVID-19. Rumors and superstitions were rife, disparity in financial situations was stark, people saw religion and freedom differently to what we see them today, and that is fair enough. Evolution and change exist, after all.

Book cover for The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

Nurse Julia Power works in a Dublin Maternity Ward. She cycles to a point from where she takes the tram to work and it is in these few sentences that you find yourself imagining how things could have been at the time. People covering their faces in handkerchiefs and sitting apart and hanging out of tram doors and all that. Nurse Power has a brother, Tim, who returned from the war mute, and she suspects that this is a psychological trauma that has turned her brother so.

On the day this novel opens, Nurse Power finds herself in charge of the Maternity/Fever ward and she has to take care of the pregnant women coming in and going out of here. Here, we see Nature at work, Nurse Power doing all she can to keep these women alive. Enter Bridie Sweeney, who is here as a runner, helping Nurse Power with odd jobs and dashing around when the Nurse can. Together, they see life and death, and over the span of three days, Nurse Power’s life changes in a magnitude that she hadn’t dreamt of before.

‘The Pull of the Stars’ is gritty and tender all at once. They say childbirth is a beautiful event but it can get pretty bloody and combined with the influenza, or the grippe as they call it, it was a painful thing to read about. There was a lot of technical, medical explanations and procedures covered in detail there, something I only have the lightest inkling about. But the author’s prose flows, even during these explanations. But there’s humanity and tenderness and love and good that merge and flow through these scenes. That’s what makes this book so worth it.

Bridie Sweeney was a package of innocence and the experience of having lived a full life. Loved the enthusiasm with which she helped Nurse Power and the awe in which she held the Nurse as she went about treating the patients in her care. Her backstory reveals a lot of truths about corruption and all the nooks and crannies that it is hidden in, and all the highways that it glares back at us from but we are conditioned to ignore it. She’s a firecracker and I loved her character to no end!

But I do feel that the story became abrupt towards the end, even though it did bring tears to my eyes. However, given that this book takes place over just 3 days, it is fair enough in its own way.

Loved the book, loved the audiobook! If you’re a fan of historical fiction, don’t dither about picking this one. It’s a great book!

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