The Pull of Stars by Emma Donoghue #ThePullofStars @EDonoghueWriter @picadorbooks #BookReview #AudioBook @MLOireland

The Pull of Stars by Emma Donoghue

Published: July 2020

Author: Emma Donoghue

Published by: Picador Books

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 304 pages / 9 hrs 5 minutes

Reading dates: 15-23 February 2023

The old world dying on its feet, a new one struggling to be born….

Dublin, 1918. In a country doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city centre, where expectant mothers who have come down with an unfamiliar flu are quarantined together. Into Julia’s regimented world step two outsiders: Doctor Kathleen Lynn, on the run from the police, and a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney.

In the darkness and intensity of this tiny ward, over the course of three days, these women change each other’s lives in unexpected ways. They lose patients to this baffling pandemic, but they also shepherd new life into a fearful world. With tireless tenderness and humanity, carers and mothers alike somehow do their impossible work.

I’m taking part in a challenge on Instagram where I read a Neglected Read every month of 2023 – one of those books from an author you love but has been sitting on your TBR shelf for a while. Having previously read Room (pre blog) and Akin by Emma Donoghue, The Pull of Stars was my February choice. I purchased a signed copy from Waterstones in it’s publication month and it has sat on my shelf every since. I listened to an audio copy borrowed from my library app and it was a fabulous way to finally read this book.

In The Pull of Stars we meet Nurse Julia Power as she travels to work at an understaffed hospital in Dublin in the maternity department. The year is 1918 and the world is in the midst of the Spanish Flu, a pandemic which will go on to kill between 25-50 million people. Julia arrives at work to find she is solely in charge of her ward of 3 women – all in various stages of pregnancy but also suffering from the flu.

A young girl, Bridie Sweeney is tasked with helping Julia – she comes from the local convent and is uneducated knowing nothing of medical matters but is quick to learn and in this intense environment the two women form a strong bond of friendship and admiration for each other. Also on hand is Doctor Kathleen Lynn (who is based on a real person), a member of Sinn Féin, on the run from the police but compassionate and angry about the poverty and problems the women have.

Set over just 3 days, in a very intense environment, we experience the horror and miracle of childbirth. Julia has to make quick decisions about the mothers and babies in her care. The women are sick and malnourished, and mortality rates are high. Some of the women are very young and like Bridie, don’t even understand how they will give birth. The book also looks at the social aspects of the time – with the First Word War coming to an end, there is a lack of food and supplies. Women still have very little control over their lives – Julia isn’t particularly shocked to find one the the women is beaten at home. Another unmarried mother will be forced to live in a convent after the birth of her child and be made to work to pay her costs.

Gruesome and gritty, this is a fantastic social commentary of the time. The Pull of Stars was published earlier than planned in July 2020 as of course, we ourselves were in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although we have much more understanding now of infection control, some of the advice given wasn’t so different – staying out of public places and not shaking hands were two pieces of advice that we had in common.

A sad and grim novel, there are glimmers of happiness but for the most part it left me feeling emotional. However, Julia is a wonderful character to hear from and that’s where Donoghue’s strength lies – in characters whose voices you want to hear. Wonderfully narrated by Emma Lowe, I loved listening to it and would highly recommend.

About the author

Emma Donoghue

Born in Dublin in 1969, Emma Donoghue is a writer of contemporary and historical fiction whose novels include the international bestseller “Room” (her screen adaptation was nominated for four Oscars), “Frog Music”, “Slammerkin,” “The Sealed Letter,” “Landing,” “Life Mask,” “Hood,” and “Stirfry.” Her story collections are “Astray”, “The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits,” “Kissing the Witch,” and “Touchy Subjects.” She also writes literary history, and plays for stage and radio. She lives in London, Ontario, with her partner and their two children.



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