Summary and book reviews of The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

The Pull of the Stars

by Emma Donoghue

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue X
The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
  • Critics' Opinion:

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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jul 2020, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2021, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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About this Book

Book Summary

In Dublin, 1918, a maternity ward at the height of the Great Flu is a small world of work, risk, death, and unlooked-for love, in "Donoghue's best novel since Room" (Kirkus Reviews).

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.



I
Red

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. A waft of dung and blood as I passed a lane where livestock were waiting. A boy in a man's coat shouted something rude at me. I pedalled faster, past a motor car creeping along to eke out its petrol.

I left my cycle in the usual alley and clipped the combination lock onto the back wheel. (German manufacture, of course. How would I replace it when its mechanism rusted up?) I let down the side tapes of my skirt and took my rain-soaked bag out of the basket. I'd have preferred to cycle all the way to the hospital, and it would have brought me there in half the time the tram took, but Matron wouldn't hear of her nurses turning up in a sweat.

Emerging onto the street, I nearly walked into a disinfection cart. Its sweet, tarry tang marked the air. I ducked away from the ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The decision to focus on a restricted timeframe of just three days allows Donoghue to show how relentless a nurse's work really was during this time. Distressing scenes are presented in excruciating detail, drawn out to an almost painful extent, but this makes the vital tension-breaking moments of friendship, love and light all the more poignant and impactful. Beyond the gripping narrative and its endearing characters, the book serves as a love letter to all the women who sacrifice themselves mind, body and soul in the name of caring for others — a theme that resonates as powerfully today as it ever did...continued

Full Review (630 words).

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(Reviewed by Callum McLaughlin).

Media Reviews

New York Times
[A]rresting...The Pull of the Stars takes place almost entirely in a single room and unfolds at the pace of a thriller....The scenes in the “fever/maternity” ward are so enthralling that the novel loses a bit of its fire — and realism — whenever it leaves that room, but these departures are thankfully rare. Donoghue seems most interested in the dramas of this one space — with which she manages to make clear the broader constrictions and injustices of an entire Irish society.

Washington Post
Donoghue has fashioned a tale of heroism that reads like a thriller, complete with gripping action sequences, mortal menaces and triumphs all the more exhilarating for being rare and hard-fought...[she] celebrates the sisterhood of women bringing life into the world and those who help them along this perilous journey...Donoghue infuses catastrophic circumstances with an infectious — but by no means blind — faith in human compassion, endurance and resilience.

NPR
In doing a deep dive into the miseries and terrors of the past, Donoghue presciently anticipated the miseries and terrors of our present...A deft, lyrical and sometimes even cheeky writer...she’s given us our first pandemic caregiver novel — an engrossing and inadvertently topical story about health care workers inside small rooms fighting to preserve life.

Los Angeles Times
Donoghue has pulled off another feat: She wrote a book about a 100-year-old flu that feels completely current, down to the same frustrations and tensions and hopes and dangers. And she did it without even knowing just how relevant it would be — how well and frighteningly her own reimagining of a historical catastrophe would square with our actual living experience of its modern sequel.

Publishers Weekly
While the novel's characters and plot feel thinner than the best of the author's remarkable oeuvre, her blunt prose and detailed, painstakingly researched medical descriptions do full justice to the reality of the pandemic and the poverty that helps fuel it. Donoghue's evocation of the 1918 flu, and the valor it demands of health-care workers, will stay with readers.

Library Journal
This female-centric story is a cross between Susan Meissner's As Bright as Heaven and Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, with a caveat: those wary of detailed medical scenes should avoid.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[A] story rich in swift, assured sketches of achingly human characters coping as best they can in extreme circumstances. Darkly compelling, illuminated by the light of compassion and tenderness: Donoghue's best novel since Room (2010).

Booklist (starred review)
Donoghue offers vivid characters and a gripping portrait of a world beset by a pandemic and political uncertainty. A fascinating read in these difficult times.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The 1918 Flu Pandemic

Black and white photo of Camp Funston during Spanish flu featuring room full of patients on cotsOften referred to as the Spanish Flu, the 1918 flu pandemic is one of the deadliest viral outbreaks the world has ever seen. Hitting its peak at the tail-end of World War I, record-keeping was poor by modern standards, but it is estimated that some 500 million people (about a quarter of the world's population at the time) became infected across its three waves, with around 50 million of them succumbing to the illness.

Though its common moniker suggests the outbreak originated in Spain, this is in fact untrue. With much of Europe embroiled in the ongoing conflict of WWI, many countries were subject to strict news censoring and media blackouts by the time the virus emerged. Not wishing to further damage morale among citizens already living...

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