This novel by Emma Donoghue shows what the realities are in a maternity ward in the middle of the 1918 pandemic. Our main character, Julia Power, is working at an understaffed, unprepared hospital in the center of Dublin and her days are filled with sorrow, suffering, and signs of hope. The first day we meet Julia, she finds out she is being put in charge of the maternity ward alone and she is trying to figure out how she will navigate this when she is introduced to her new helper, Bridie Sweeney, a volunteer who has never worked in a hospital before but is eager to learn. The relationship that is quickly forged between these two women is in no small part to what they must endure.
Of the women under their care, there are complications in birth, from the flu, from an understanding of the birthing process. The lead doctor is a woman on the run, Doctor Kathleen Lynn, and she is smart and strong and puts faith and power in Julia’s hands and allows her to follow her judgment regarding the care of the patients. This story is full of pain, power, resilience, hope, and struggle and it does not shy away from the gritty details and truth of the situation. In fact I would be remiss if I said that this wasn’t graphic, it’s pretty graphic.
My only complaint is that I wish this was advertised as being queer. I and many other readers became more interested in (and in fact more willing to) reading this novel because there is a queer element – especially sapphic! I urge you not to shy away from the LGBTQ label, clearly, the author included it for a reason and not for shame. Labeling something as queer will get you more readers, this has been proven before with Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Priory of the Orange Tree. Don’t limit your readership by excluding this title.