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The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue is best known for her novel, Room, as well as other novels that range from the historical, like The Wonder, through to the contemporary, such as Akin.

Her new novel The Pull of the Stars is set in Dublin in 1918, in a country doubly inflicted by war and disease as the Spanish Flu rips through the crowded city, taking many victims.

Working at the coal face of the understaffed hospital in the city centre, nurse Julia Power is having to keep all her wits about her to deal with the increasing workload as she looks after the maternity ward that is dealing with expectant patients who also have the Flu.

Set over three days with Julia in charge of this tiny ward, Julia gets help from two outsiders: Dr Kathleen Lynn and a young volunteer, Bridie Sweeney. But the Doctor (based on a real-life person) is on the run from the police, and Bridie knows nothing about medicine or nursing.

These three women change each other’s lives in different ways as they must cope with losing patients to the illness, but also delivering new life into the world.

The book was inspired by the centenary of the great Flu that killed an estimated 3 to 6 percent of the world’s population in 1918, but the publication was brought forward because of our own COVID-19 crisis. Reading this book is certainly an eerie experience, being immersed back in 1918, but also being aware of our current world challenge.

The Pull of the Stars is an extraordinary book, a book that is profoundly moving, with unforgettable characters at its core. But it might not be a book for everyone – for the fainthearted, there is a lot of information about childbirth, that should be mentioned with a gentle warning in case it might be distressing. But this is love and loss at the cutting edge – sick women in a maternity ward trying to beat the odds that are stacked against them. Emma shows how difficult this must have been for these mothers during this pandemic, and the doctors and nurses trying to save them, so the graphic detail in this superb novel simply couldn’t have been left out.

Reviewer: Karen McMillan

Macmillan Publishers


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