Monday, January 4, 2021

The Pull of The Stars by Emma Donoghue

The Pull of The Stars
by Emma Donoghue
Published July 2020 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
In an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city center, where expectant mothers who have come down with the terrible new Flu are quarantined together. Into Julia's regimented world step two outsiders — Doctor Kathleen Lynn, a rumoured Rebel on the run from the police , and a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney. 

In the darkness and intensity of this tiny ward, over three days, these women change each other's lives in unexpected ways. They lose patients to this baffling pandemic, but they also shepherd new life into a fearful world. With tireless tenderness and humanity, carers and mothers alike somehow do their impossible work. 

In The Pull of the Stars, Emma Donoghue once again finds the light in the darkness in this new classic of hope and survival against all odds.

My Thoughts: 
I've enjoyed Donoghue's books in the past so didn't even look to see what this book was about before I started it and was surprised to find myself reading about a pandemic, even as we are living through one. In the Author's Notes at the end, Donoghue says that she had turned in the final edits of her book in March 2020, just as it became clear that this novel coronavirus was going to be a worldwide pandemic. It's not the only way that this book, set 100 years ago, is timely; it explores the ways in which politics affects our lives and the way poverty is exacerbated by the pandemic (or is it the other way around?). 

I was also surprised that this was a book set almost entirely in one room, harkening back to Donoghue's earlier work Room. Donoghue is certainly adept at creating a wide world in a small space and in creating stories and characters that showcase the strength of women, from the woman who has come in pregnant with her twelfth child to the female doctor who is working to try to save lives even as the authorities are trying to arrest her. 

At times, it felt a little bit like one of those adventure movies where if anything can go wrong, it will, what with every kind of tragedy playing out in that ward. And I was about two-thirds of the way through this book and still trying to figure out where Donoghue was going with this story when it finally occurred to me that she had already arrived there and all of those medical emergencies were there for a reason. At one point, a male orderly suggests that women shouldn't get the vote because they didn't fight in the war, didn't pay the "blood price." Donoghue makes it clear that women have always paid the blood price. In the end, I came away from this book knowing that I'd be thinking about these characters and what had happened in that ward for a long time. It would be hard not to, given that we're living through it right now. 


  1. It's on my list but thankfully, I did know it was about a pandemic. It's weird though. I wanted to read books about pandemics when the pandemic first hit. The Stand kept calling to me. Now? NOPE. I will read this eventually but I had some issues with Room.

  2. There's a line in this one that says that masks don't work. And I almost quit reading - we have to deal with that enough as it is and it was said by a nurse!

  3. I thought Room was outstanding and plan to read this one (probably on audio) sometime this year. Like you, I had no idea it was about a pandemic, though, as I often skip reading the publisher's blurb if it's a book by an author I enjoy.