Historical Fiction has been a real hit or miss for me lately. So far, I haven’t been disappointed. Not only did the beautiful cover of this pull me in, but the blurb and author! Who doesn’t love Emma Donoghue? It took me a while to read, but I enjoyed every minute of it!
In an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city center, where expectant mothers who have come down with the terrible new 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 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.
Thank you to NetGalley who approved my request to review this book and the lovely people at Pan MacMillan who provided an ebook review copy! In no way does this influence my opinion.
With Donoghue, I’ve noticed she gets right into it! Compared to her other books, this was the first one that took a while for me to get used to. Not that it’s an unpleasant thing, but with so much information thrown at the reader at once about the war, flu, our main character, and setting—it’s a lot to grasp all happening over the course of three days! On top of that, there were a bunch of medical terms and jargon used, which I didn’t know. Yet readers can tell how much research Donoghue must’ve done. The research is so authentic that some scenes are visually graphic to read!
Nurse Julie Power has to look after patients in Maternity / Fever Ward. It’s her first time in charge of a room since they’re understaffed. Told from Julie’s point of view, it gives readers a peek at her personal life and daily trials and tribulations of what’s it like to be a nurse during a pandemic. Donoghue ironically shares a glimpse of what’s it like to be a nurse during the current pandemic as well, since there are many similarities.
Julie was a tender, pivotal character that I adored reading the story from. She has such an enormous heart, not only for her patients but for her brother as well, who had gone mute. However, I didn’t really connect with her as a character. I must’ve been too invested in the actual story to admire her bravery every day.
Bridie Sweeney, the mysterious girl who shows up to lend Nurse Julie a hand. I have to admit; I knew something was bound to happen, especially the way Julie described Bridie as the days—hours went by! They went through so much together in such a short time! Bridie brought life into that room. Not only to Julie, but to the patients as well.
Deprivation and humiliation had been this girl's meat and drink; she'd swallowed them down and turned them to strength, mirth, beauty. - 95% into the book.
Then there’s Dr. Lynn, who remained a mystery throughout the book. I wish Donoghue explored her character more, or she was in more scenes. Readers vaguely digest that she’s a rebel, people look at her but she stood up for different reasons as apposed to what society’s norms were back then. It geared up well and fell short at the end.
This book made me emotional, not physical, but mentally thinking about how people lived back then. Historical fiction always gets me in this mood! To think about how people lived, what they did to survive, how people were treated, what the world was back then, and who they entrusted was a vast difference from our current pandemic. There’s a character, Groyn, who brought the women into the ward and he’d say this vile stuff about women and compared today, a man wouldn’t be caught alive saying half that stuff! Also, every woman brought in, Donoghue made sure the reader connected with them! My favorite had to be Mary O'Reilly who I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
Tiny arms flung wide on the crib mattress, as if embracing a world he had no reason to dread. - 90% into the book.
Overall, Donoghue really makes readers think and reflect on this novel during our pandemic. Not only to compare but reflect on how times have changed and the smallest things we should be grateful for. This was such a lovely story to read, I hope to own a physical copy one day. Other than that, I’d sure as heck give this four golden stars!