Author: Emma Donoghue
Genre: Adult Fiction- Historical Fiction
Review by: Mary, Newbridge Library
In an Ireland 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 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.
Set during the 1918 Flu pandemic it is very topical for us living through this pandemic. Emma Donoghue draws us in very fast and she quickly highlights the grief and suffering of the survivors of WW1 namely the heroine, Julia’s mute brother suffering shell shock from the trenches. Julia is a thirty year old Nurse working in a Dublin center hospital. Julia works as a nurse in a maternity ward and as most staff are ill from the Flu she is in charge on her own on the ward. She is sent a volunteer, Bridie Sweeney from the local convent where she is an unpaid servant- having been an orphan and raised there. Nurse Power is kind and as efficient as possible in trying to accelerate labour and the birth of babies due to fact the patients are suffering from the flu pandemic. Bridie is very helpful to all on the ward but is ignorant of facts of life relating to babies and birth. She says while feeling baby moving in the womb “I thought it only came to life when once it was out”.
This book is all about grief and suffering, blood, guts and the trauma of life at such an uncertain time. There is a sub plot of a Doctor on the run from the authorities, Doctor Kathleen Lynn is working in the hospital and there are rumours of her arrest as she is a Sinn Fein politician.
I felt there was great tenderness portrayed in this novel by both Julia Power and Bridie Sweeney. The romance and the redemption at the end of the novel is not very plausible but it did highlight the need for a beacon of light in a very dark place. It resonates with the dark times, multiple deaths and serious illness experienced world wide at present.