First sentence: Still hours of dark to go when I left the house that morning. I cycled through reeking Dublin streets that were slick with rain. My short green cape kept off the worst, but my coat sleeves were soon wet through.
Premise/plot: Set during the Spanish Influenza of 1918 in Dublin, Ireland, it follows Nurse Julia Power closely over the course of three days in the maternity fever ward. Julia is a midwife; she's used to losing patients--either mothers, or babies, or sometimes both mother and baby. She has a way of marking each loss of a patient; she's diligent and hardworking, but caring as well.
Readers get to know a few other characters as well including one person from history: Dr. Kathleen Lynn (1874–1955).
My thoughts: What an incredibly intense read!!!! For better or worse. There's nothing beautiful or glamorous about being a nurse/midwife. And the women in her ward, in her care, well they're fully fleshed/realized characters. This is like a super-super-super-super-super intense episode of Call the Midwife minus the hope and humor.
There are essentially NO CHAPTERS, just four sections (if I counted right, which is always doubtful!). I'm not sure if the lack of chapters kept me up reading, or, if it was my need to know if anyone would be okay, if the patients would live to see another day or night.
I'm not sure if the narrative style is technically stream of consciousness, but, if I had to guess I'd say it might very well be. It is very in the moment and personal. We see everything through Nurse Power's eyes.
Reading this during COVID is an experience in and of itself. I think that's why it's being published perhaps a little earlier than originally intended?
I noticed just one headline about the flu today, low down on the right: Increase in Reports of Influenza. A masterpiece of understatement, as if it were only the reporting that had increased, or perhaps the pandemic was a figment of the collective imagination. I wondered whether it was the newspaper publisher’s decision to play down the danger or if he’d received orders from above.
That’s what influenza means, she said. Influenza delle stelle—the influence of the stars. Medieval Italians thought the illness proved that the heavens were governing their fates, that people were quite literally star-crossed. I pictured that, the celestial bodies trying to fly us like upside-down kites. Or perhaps just yanking on us for their obscure amusement.
But wasn’t it the whole world’s war now? Hadn’t we caught it from each other, as helpless against it as against other infections? No way to keep one’s distance; no island to hide on. Like the poor, maybe, the war would always be with us. Across the world, one lasting state of noise and terror under the bone man’s reign.
THE PUBLIC IS URGED TO STAY OUT OF PUBLIC PLACES SUCH AS CAFÉS, THEATRES, CINEMAS, AND PUBLIC HOUSES. SEE ONLY THOSE PERSONS ONE NEEDS TO SEE. REFRAIN FROM SHAKING HANDS, LAUGHING, OR CHATTING CLOSELY TOGETHER. IF ONE MUST KISS, DO SO THROUGH A HANDKERCHIEF. SPRINKLE SULPHUR IN THE SHOES. IF IN DOUBT, DON’T STIR OUT.
It occurred to me that in the case of this flu there could be no signing a pact with it; what we waged in hospitals was a war of attrition, a battle over each and every body.
THE GOVERNMENT HAS THE SITUATION WELL IN HAND AND THE EPIDEMIC IS ACTUALLY IN DECLINE. THERE IS NO REAL RISK EXCEPT TO THE RECKLESS WHO TRY TO FIGHT THE FLU ON THEIR FEET. IF YOU FEEL YOURSELF SUCCUMBING, REPORT YOURSELF AND LIE DOWN FOR A FORTNIGHT. WOULD THEY BE DEAD IF THEY’D STAYED IN BED?
© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews