The Pull of the Stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Yes, I know I said I would start writing reviews on Sunday mornings instead of Saturday mornings now, but it was a holiday in the U.S., so that is my excuse for again being a day late. Incidentally, I had a great holiday yesterday– I went for a 5 mile hike in a local park, had an ice cream cone afterwards (cookies and cream with a waffle cone!), and did some upkeep on my plants. So, I’m sorry but not too sorry for taking a day off. I hope my fellow Americans also had a relaxing holiday.

I read The Pull of the Stars on a whim. I have been enjoying having an audiobook to read while I water my plants (I have a lot of plants now), and since I have read a few books by Emma Donoghue before (Room and The Wonder), I thought I would try this author again. The Pull of the Stars takes place in Ireland during 1918, when the world was at war and also battling an influenza pandemic. In the book we follow Nurse Julia Power who works in a very small ward for women who are pregnant but also have the flu. Everyone in her hospital is stretched thin and works long, hard hours. The hospital is even desperate enough to employ a feminist rebel doctor, Dr. Kathleen Lynn. When Julia finds herself in charge of her ward one day, she is given a helper, Bridie Sweeney, who she quickly becomes close to. The book follows Julia and the lives of the women, both patients and staff, who get her through the days ahead.

I would say that the characters and themes are the main draw here, while the plot is rather subtle. Julia and Bridie tend to the women and their babies while also battling the women’s’ flu symptoms. It is interesting to see how both flu and childbirth were dealt with during this time and despite the shortages from the war. It is tough to read at times because of this, but it is also hard to listen to how women were treated in general. Throughout the book we see Julia, who wasn’t the most “traditional” woman to begin with, have her eyes opened to the atrocities that women and children in her country face every day. There are only a few major plot points, but it can be quite tense to read how Julia and Bridie’s quick thinking impacted the fates of the women in their ward.

I liked all of the main characters: Julia, Bridie, and Dr. Lynn. As It is very interesting to see how both Dr. Lynn and Bridie influenced Julia’s perspective of the world. Julia and Bridie have good character development and form a great relationship throughout the novel. I liked Dr. Lynn because she was sure of herself and her opinions despite those around her judging her, but she wasn’t given a lot of time on the page. The patients in the ward are featured too, but they weren’t fleshed out very much. I have a hard time remembering their names, but I do remember their stories and backgrounds. One is wealthy, some have had many children while others are first timers, and another is an unwed mother. They felt like they were there to show the reader how different women are viewed and lived at this time rather than being fully formed characters.

I am finding it a little difficult to justify why I gave the book a three and a half out of five stars when I haven’t really said anything negative about it, but my ratings are always partially due to my enjoyment of the book. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed this read, but it was insightful. And though it touched on many important themes (healthcare, grief, feminism, etc.), it didn’t do anything too unique and it didn’t emotionally impact me as much as I thought it would. This is a pretty dreary novel overall, though it ended on a somewhat hopeful note. If you like female-led historical fiction that focuses on everyday life during a time period, The Pull of the Stars might be more for you.

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