Many critics are raving about this new offering from Emma Donoghue. They say it's best thing the Irish-Canadian author has written since her 2010 novel Room.
The Pull of the Stars
By Emma Donoghue
Reading about a pandemic during a pandemic felt like it would be a hard but this was not the case with latest offering from Donoghue, who is best known for her 2010 novel Room. You are immediately drawn in and care about the small cast of characters.
In a note at the end of the book, the Donoghue explains that after two years of research and writing she delivered her manuscript in March 2020 as Covid-19 changed the world. It’s fiction but based on facts drawn from testimonies of Irish residential institutions as her focus is on the lives of poor women in Dublin.
The story takes place over three days and is set mainly in a tiny room – the maternity-fever ward at an Irish hospital during the 1918 flu pandemic near the end of WW1.
Maternity nurse Julia Power is left in charge of the makeshift ward after her senior colleague is seconded elsewhere. She is allocated a young volunteer, Bridie Sweeney, a “boarder” from the nearby convent who grew up in orphanages, and together they share a lifetime of experiences over a very short time.
Though the accounts of childbirth are quite graphic they do show the peril the women had to deal with in a time of illness and shortages of many basics during the end stages of a war.
The ending is a bit rushed and there are some melodramatic moments that serve no real purpose, but the book is full of hope and compassion and is a touching read.
"Reading it now offers a particularly eerie version of the time travel of historical fiction; one can’t stop thinking that it was written in 2018 for us to read in 2020, based on records from 1918 – dizzying swoops of both time and imagination. The novel’s Dublin is certainly uncannily familiar for this year’s readers, plastered with injunctions to “Stay out of public places … See only those persons one needs to see, refrain from shaking hands. If in doubt, don’t stir out.” - Author Sarah Moss, The Guardian
"Reading The Pull of the Stars now is such a disquieting experience — and certainly a very different one than it would've been had the novel come earlier." - Maureen Corrigan, npr.org