Pandemic Midwifery in The Pull of the Stars | Spoiler-Free Review

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

5 Star Rating System 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction
Author: Emma Donoghue
Published: July 2020
Publisher: Picador
Pages: 304 {ebook}


Review on Goodreads

Thank you Picador (Pan Macmillan) for providing me a copy of this in exchange for an honest review!

Initial Thoughts upon Finishing

UM WOW. This blew me away?!? I can’t even work out why this was so brilliant?! I’m seriously amazed. This is my first Donoghue book and oh my god I feel like I’m re-entering the world for the first time since I picked this up. I couldn’t stop reading this even though the scope of the plot is quite small, spanning only a handful of days in a maternity ward. AH. This was simply brilliant, what else can I say.

The Pull of the Stars

This story is set in 1918 during the height of the Spanish Flu. It follows a (nearly) thirty-year-old woman called Julia who lives in Dublin and works in the hospital as a nurse. She lives with her brother, Tim, who was injured fighting in the war and is now a mute. Julia is taking care of the influenza maternity ward (pregnant women who also have the flu). When the nurse in charge (yes there is an official term for that but shhh) takes ill, it’s up to Julia to roll up her sleeves and try to manage all the trials of the maternity ward alone, until a volunteer called Bridie is recruited in to help her.

The story is gripping, realistic, terrifying and harrowingly relatable to our current situation. With the story only spanning a few days, a lot of detail is poured into the character development of Julia and individual cases that come into her ward. We follow her journey as she does her best to manage all the curveballs that tricky pregnancies throw her way. It is quite literally impossible to put down and not a particularly long book either: I found myself finishing this within a small number of sittings.

Why I Loved This

Firstly, for the pace of the plot and how interesting it was. I could not work out for the life of me why, at 50% through, when the story had gone no further than one day on the maternity ward, what was so damn interesting and addictive about it?? BUT OH BOY – have you ever watched Call the Midwife? And you just can’t stop watching? The horror! The joy! The stress! The excitement! All heightened in the setting of a war and a global pandemic.

But secondly, the characters of Julia and Bridie were incredible. I can practically see and hear them. I feel intimately familiar with all their mannerisms and who they are as people. Donoghue has woven these characters to life with words in a way I never thought possible. If I bumped into Julia on my way to work one morning, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. She’s just so real and relatable to me, especially with the subtle but continuous toying with whether she should be stressed about turning thirty or whether that was okay (not that I’m turning thirty yet but still, getting older and being single/childless feels like a TIME PRESSURE PEOPLE).

Why It’s So Good

I think these two things combined (great characters and a short timeline) made the whole thing seem so much more intimate. Instead of exploring the atrocious situation of the poor (a massive topic), which is heavily alluded to throughout the story, we focus on just one very specific element of that reality: pregnancy.

We become intensely familiar with the setting of the story and it’s done a great job to pique the reader’s interest in the living conditions of the poor in 1918. You find yourself so invested in the history of this time because the personal and specific examples of a mother enduring her twelfth pregnancy, or a girl giving birth for the first time at way too young of an age, just sucks you in and makes you want to explore more.

It’s masterfully done to really make you connect with the emotions that Julia’s is feeling. This is also some queer representation within this story (FF relationship) which is worth noting. Whilst it doesn’t take centre stage it’s certainly a great element of this story that completes the picture.


I clearly need to read more of Donoghue’s writing. Overall this was brilliant and I dumbstruck by how much I enjoyed this. The rises and falls of the plot’s climaxes rush you through the story in a good way. You’re lulled into a sense of security with a nice scene and then the pace is ramped right up with a dramatic, stressful scene a few pages later. This book is impossible to not love and binge.

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The Pull of the Stars will be released in Australian bookstores on the 28 July 2020 [Picador]

Happy reading!

~~ Kirstie ~~


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