Review: The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

Synopsis: 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, a rumoured Rebel 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. 

In The Pull of the Stars, Emma Donoghue once again finds the light in the darkness in this new classic of hope and survival against all odds. 

Genre: Historical Fiction, LGBT

Publication Date: July 21st

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Length: 295 pages

My Rating: 2.5/5

Sickness doesn’t let up, even during labor. Ireland is in the middle of a war, and fighting a new strain of deadly Flu at the same time. Nurse Julia Power is working in the makeshift ward for pregnant women who have caught the flu, struggling to keep them alive with only a volunteer named Bridie Sweeney and a mysterious Doctor Lynn to help. Over three days, Nurse Julia will be tested to the limits, and find a strength in herself she never knew she had. 

“Women have been paying the blood tax since time began”

I’ve read horror stories with less casualties than The Pull of the Stars. This book gave me some serious trouble at times. To begin with, it’s set during a pandemic, which hits a little close to home right now. I like books to provide an escape from reality, which unfortunately this one did not. On top of that, there are some graphic depictions of pregnancy, including a horrifying mix of complications during labor. I do not recommend reading this book if you are currently pregnant. There were some points where I just had to put the book down and walk away because it got to be too much to handle. 

I will give Emma Donoghue credit, she really knows how to set a scene. I admire how the author brought 1918 Ireland to life, and the amount of detail included in every aspect of the setting. The descriptions of city-life during a war coupled with a pandemic were well done, and brought the almost-dystopian world to life. Julia Power was a relatable character, and the optimal nurse for a pandemic; smart, caring and dedicated to her patients. The patients themselves were an interesting blend of women from that time period, from rich to poor, religious and uneducated, showing that the Flu doesn’t care how much money you have. Emma Donoghue explores a lot of women’s health issues from that time, including the heartbreaking concept of “You don’t love him unless you give him 12”. I appreciate that the author didn’t shy away from the harsh realities that women back then faced. I could have done without some of the graphic depictions of labour, I swear this book could be renamed ‘The Manual for Giving Pregnant Women Nightmares’. The medical detail was sickeningly well done, and maybe at a different point in time I could have been a little less scarred by this. 

I think that the author did a very good job with the historical aspects of her book, and driving home the stress of health care workers during a pandemic. Unfortunately for me it just wasn’t enough to make up for the rather rushed plot in the last half of the book, and the major point of contention that I had (listed below because of spoilers). The writing was well done, and I would be willing to try reading something else by Emma Donoghue, but I don’t think I will be able to recommend this book for other people to read. 

Leave a comment below and let me know what you thought of the book!

****Major Spoilers Ahead*****

I was able to enjoy this book right up until about the last 10 percent. The romance I was promised sparked close to the end of the book, so of course I had this optimism that there would be a happy ending. Instead, after the briefest moments of love and happiness, Bridie promptly shows symptoms of the flu, gets sick and dies, leaving Julia to deal with yet another horrific death. I thought the ‘Bury your Gays’ trope was done now, are we really still doing this? There was barely a chapter of romance and then it gets brutally torn away. This was a book about loss and dealing with hardships, so maybe a happy ending wasn’t in the cards, but in that case don’t list the book as an LGBT romance. 

TW: Graphic Depictions of Childbirth, Child Death, Mention of Physical Abuse

****Major Spoilers Finished*****

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