The Pull of the Stars
I have mixed feelings about The Pull Of The Stars. As a fan of Ms. Donoghue, I was thrilled when I got notice of its arrival, and the hype surrounding it made it a no-brainer for me to buy. But it wasn’t what I’d expected.
The time is 1918, the setting a maternity ward in a hospital in Dublin. The main character, Julia Powell, is a nurse charged with caring for expectant mothers whose pregnancies are complicated by the Spanish flu. From what I understand, the publisher rushed this book into publication because of our current pandemic. And the parallels were interesting, particularly the heroism of front-line workers.
For the bulk of the story, though, this felt like a technical book. Ms. Donoghue did a slew of medical research and tells a detailed story of maternity care in the early 1900s. It is a very detailed story – at times, too-detailed – alternately interesting, off-putting, and horrifying.
I like reading about human relationships, but it wasn’t until the second half of the book that these truly matured. And still, I felt empty. There was potential that went unmet.
I’m not quite sure what the author’s goal was in writing this book. Was it to present a historical picture of women’s healthcare? To present a picture of the political oppression of women? There was a plot twist at the end of the book that I didn’t see coming, and it was resolved in a way that I left me mystified. Was it added simply to shock? Or to keep the story going?
On the positive side, The Pull Of The Stars is well-written. Ms. Donoghue’s prose is clear and only descriptive enough to describe, without authorial self-aggrandizement. I do like that in a book.
And the ending has hope. Perhaps that is the single message of this book. Hope.