You probably know Emma Donoghue from her best selling book Room in which almost all the action takes place in a small space where a kidnapped woman and her son are being held hostage. In The Pull of the Stars almost all the action once again takes place in one small space, a cramped maternity ward with only three beds in a Dublin Hospital during the height of the 1918 flu pandemic.
The graphic and troubling scenes in Room were not for the faint of heart and neither are many of the scenes in The Pull of the Stars, although ‘faint of heart’ would be no way to describe our heroine Julia who is the day nurse on the maternity ward. The other two key characters in the story are Julia’s plucky and endearing volunteer aide Bridget and Dr Kathleen Lynne the only female doctor in the hospital who is as savvy a political fighter as she is a medical expert.
The research Emma Donoghue must have done to write this book is astonishing. It is rich with historical and medical detail and although I am not an expert in either field, I was riveted by the graphic picture Donoghue paints of the time, a picture that makes the reader ever so grateful to be living through a pandemic in the present.
The various patients on Julia’s ward over a three day period give us heartbreaking insight into what women’s lives were like just after the turn of the century and the fact that Julia’s brother Tim is a recently returned World War I veteran helps us see what a devastating impact the war had on so many people.
I would not give this book to a pregnant woman but other than that I can highly recommend it for everyone. Despite the dark period in history it brings to life Pull of the Stars is a story of warmth and caring and courage that ultimately inspires the reader to feel grateful and hopeful.