Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Pull of the Stars

  The Pull of the Stars
Author:  Emma Donoghue
Publication Information:  Little, Brown and Company. 2020. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0316499013 / 978-0316499019

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Still hours of dark to go when I left the house that morning."

Favorite Quote:  "I'd never believed the future was inscribed for each of us the day we were born. If anything was written in the stars, it was we who joined those dots, and our lives were the writing."

Dublin, 1918. The war. The influenza pandemic of 1918. A maternity ward for those who are both pregnant and suffering from the flu. This is the dark background of this story. Given the current pandemic, it seems timely with lessons to be learned.  "The human race settles on terms with every plague in the end, the doctor told her. Or a stalemate, at the least. We somehow muddle along, sharing the earth with each new form of life." Unfortunately, that is the not the story told.

A lot of the book focuses on the details of a maternity ward, with detailed descriptions of medical procedures. The main character, Julia, is a nurse tasked with the running of a makeshift ward to isolate maternity patients suffering from the flu. The story covers only about three days, but what a set of days. It appears that everything that could go wrong does. Although set in the influenza pandemic, this tale is much more about the challenges of maternity - exacerbated by the flu but still about the mother and child. As a reader, personally, I do not need the pages upon pages of medical details to get the gist of the trying times in which Julia found herself.

Part of this book focuses on one historical character. Dr. Kathleen Lynn was a doctor and an Irish activist involved in the suffragist, labor and nationalist movements. She was also a member of the Irish Citizen Army and later Sinn Féin. She was arrested and prosecuted for her role in the uprisings. She comes in and out of Julia's ward. Her story is never fully developed; that is not the point of the book. I would not have realized she was a historical figure but for the author's note, but that does send me off to research and learn a little bit more.

One aspect of the book that I do not truly understand is the title. Many references are made to "stars" in different context throughout the book:
  • "And most stargazers do come out on their own. Stargazers? That was Birdie. I explained over my shoulder:  Born face, looking towards the sky." (translation: babies born face up which is not the normal pregnancy presentation.)
  • "We could always blame the stars... That's what influenza means, she said. Influenza delle stele - the influence of the stars. Medieval Italians though the illness proved that the heavens were governing their fates, that people were quite literally star-crossed."
  • "Thinking that maybe we were indeed the sport of the stars. With their individual silks, they tugged us this way and that."
The references are distinct, coming from the science at the time, language history, and some mythology. However, they do not coalesce into a theme that carries to the plot of the book.

Towards the end of the book, the story jarringly introduces two romances that seem to come out of nowhere. One comes from a relationship that I read throughout the book as more motherly or mentoring. (I did not see that coming!) The other literally is only hinted at and offered as an explanations for the unseen wounds of war. That thread is not not central to the book to begin with and to me undermines the impact of the scars war leaves in its atrocities.

Sadly, I am not the reader for this book. So disappointing.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.


  1. Thanks so much for reading and for your very kind review of The Mirror Man! I am humbled and I appreciate your support more than I can say <3

    1. Thank you for stopping by. I truly enjoyed the book and look forward to the next story.