Chosen by Laura Roach
This has been a year that none of us will forget in a hurry. As we come into the festive season, the last thing you may want to read is a book set during the flu pandemic of 1918. Nonetheless, I urge you to pick up this incredible story of resilience, love, and integrity. I have to confess I was taken in by the striking cover and title (I’m obsessed with anything star related!) but it was the story I fell in love with.
The Pull of the Stars crams us into a tiny maternity and fever ward of a Dublin hospital. With Nurse Julia Power as our eyes and ears, we witness the highs and lows of her caring for women and their unborn babies through this unrelenting and brutal illness, dispiritingly known as the ‘grip’.
With most doctors having enlisted in the army and nursing staff battling the same illness as their patients, Julia is sent help in the form of Bridie Sweeney, a young woman raised in a local nunnery. Julia is formally educated and intelligent. Bridie is not formally educated, nor does she know anything of midwifery, but she has a great deal to teach Julia about the ways of the world. Despite the heartache the ward brings, something forms between Julia and Bridie for which neither of them is searching.
It is truly incredible what Donoghue fits into fewer than 300 pages and three fictional days. Ireland is in turmoil, the first world war is raging, and an illness is taking hold of anyone who crosses its path regardless of age, wealth, or rank. She also looks complex issues such as ‘shell shock’ (now known as PTSD), feminism, women’s suffrage, and finding your soulmate in the most unexpected of times and places.
This book is not bleak or depressing (OK, I cried just a little bit) nor is it overly complex but it is a beautiful, uplifting message of hope. It shows us what it is to be taken to the bottom of the pit and how it is still possible, in the darkest moments, to see the light.
I found this book truly unputdownable. There is an air of anticipation that grows so slowly and so tenderly that you barely know it until the words are on the page in front of you. The characters and narrative are utterly engrossing and exceptionally well written; I curled up in my reading chair and let at least two cups of tea go cold (at which point I swapped to wine instead).
I would highly recommend The Pull of the Stars to anyone and everyone but particularly those who enjoy fiction based on fact. Get yourself cosy on a cold winter night, preferably with a cup of mulled wine, and let yourself be totally immersed and enraptured by this wonderful book.
Publisher: Picador, PanMac
Date of Publication: 23/07/2020
ISBN 13: 9781529046151