Three days in the lives of a midwife, a GP-obstetrician and a young hospital volunteer in Dublin in the midst of a pandemic and towards the end of the First World War. Most of the narrative takes place in a store room repurposed for expectant mothers with the influenza. The title of the book is taken from the meaning of influenza – an infection due to the influence of the stars. The author packs a lot into the 300 pages: the 1916 Easter uprising for a free Ireland, the ‘shell shock’ of returning soldiers, the treatment of unmarried mothers and orphan children by the Catholic Church with its Magdalene laundries and care homes, and the effects of poverty on pregnancy and childbirth. Yes, there is a lot of misery, but some hope too. The main characters are empathic and resilient women in the face of death and disability. The nurse-midwife and the doctor have mutual respect and work well together to provide the best care they can in challenging cirumstances.
It is salutary to think we have made great progress in maternal and baby health in the last 100 years, but that there are still difficulties globally in obtaining contraception, adequate care and reproductive health. Women’s rights are under attack and we must advocate for health and social equity.
Published by Picador, 2020 – author Emma Donoghue