Reviewed by Christy
Julia Power is a young Irish nurse on the cusp of turning thirty. She’s a midwife in the maternity ward of the hospital, and finds great fulfillment in her career. But work has been chaotic and overwhelming the past couple weeks. The hospital employees are overworked and understaffed, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. It’s 1918, and the Spanish Flu is ravishing Dublin and the entire world.
The Pull of the Stars is a day-in-the-life type of book that takes place over three merciless days in a makeshift maternity ward for expectant mothers with the flu. Julia must keep her patients comfortable and keep an eye on their vital signs, all while delivering an occasional baby and deferring to male doctors who are quick to dismiss her expertise. Sometimes the deference is more difficult than the rest. Luckily, she has the assistance of a scrappy, young volunteer who is a quick learner and an enormous help. She also meets the new female doctor who is rumored to be an activist against British rule but seems to be on Julia’s side when it comes to medical practices.
Once I realized the book would be “merely” following Julia around as she does her job, I was a little apprehensive that it wouldn’t grab me or worse, bore me completely. I could not have been more wrong. While there are glimpses of her home life with her World War I veteran brother, most of the action takes place in the hospital. And it is action! Julia is a wonderful, capable nurse who always has her patients’ best interests in mind. Her volunteer, Bridie, is bright-eyed and eager to learn. The female doctor, Dr. Lynn, is gentle and understanding. Basically, I loved all of these characters. My only real qualms were a romance plot line that felt a little out of nowhere, and some of the events at the end of the book. I’m not really sure how I feel about them but I can say I didn’t love them.
I was fortunate enough to catch the audio book available on READS, and at times, the performance had me on the edge of my seat. Listening to a lyrical Irish accent was certainly nice too. Although Donoghue had started work on this book in October of 2018, the release is quite timely, and I’m sure our current state of affairs factored into the urgency I felt while reading this book. I’ve read a couple of Donoghue’s books and enjoyed them immensely, but for some reason it’s been quite a long time since I’ve given her another go. I don’t think that’s a mistake I’ll repeat.